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Lake Vacation Tips: Learn About Winter Driving Safety

Swimming and boating at Lake of the Ozarks isn't in high demand during winter. However, many families escape to the lake to celebrate their holidays and enjoy the area's serene beauty. When snow falls at the lake, the community comes to life with sledding, snowmen, and even a few snow forts and snowball fights. Unfortunately, roads and highways become slick and hazardous, leading to an increased risk of an accident.

When vacationing at the lake during the winter or over the Christmas and New Year's holidays, the Lake Ozark Fire Protection District wants to keep you safe on the road. Use these winter driving safety tips to navigate the area, surrounding counties, and roadways when snow or ice makes traveling a tougher trek.

Table of Contents:

The Most Dangerous Road Leading to the Lake

Winter Emergency Car Kit Items

Navigating Icy and Snowy Roads

Is Lake of the Ozarks Dangerous?

  • Water Temperature for Hypothermia

  • FAQ: All About Hypothermia


When traveling down to the lake during winter, be mindful of Highway 54 and the condition of other roads on the journey. Practice safe winter driving practices, and remember that winter poses other risks at the lake, too.

Car driving at night in winter

The Most Dangerous Road Leading to the Lake of the Ozarks

US Highway 54 is one of the main routes to Lake of the Ozarks. Unfortunately, this highway is also known for being one of the most dangerous highways in the state. While some highways are dangerous because of constant roadwork, curves, hills, or speed-related accidents, Highway 54 is known for its prevalence of curves, median crossing, and wrong-way accidents.

When traveling Highway 54, be aware of the dangers. Watch vehicle speed and prepare for curves in the road. Traveling too fast could lead to an accident, or the driver could lose control of the vehicle and veer into oncoming traffic. 

Winter weather impacts highways across the state. Consider delaying travel until the weather clears and street crews can treat the roads. 

How to Pack a Winter Emergency Car Kit 

Winter weather can arrive seemingly out of the blue. Those traveling to the lake might be suddenly navigating through heavy snowfall or icy conditions. In extreme weather conditions, cars can become stuck or stalled.

Do not venture onto the roads during the winter without packing an emergency kit for the car. This emergency kit must include everything necessary to survive a night in the cold. Here's what to pack in the car:

  • A flashlight and batteries

  • Extra blankets, hats, gloves, and scarves

  • Non-perishable foods

  • Plenty of water

  • A cell phone charger for the car

  • A shovel

  • A tire jack and spare tire

  • Jumper cables

  • A rain poncho and an umbrella

  • A snow scraper

  • Snow boots

  • Warning triangles or road flares

Navigating Icy and Snowy Roads

Most Missourians are experienced with driving in bad weather. Snow and ice are common during Missouri winters, but even the most experienced drivers can feel stressed when navigating icy, slick, snow-packed roads and highways.

When bad weather arrives during a road trip to the Lake of the Ozarks, don't panic. Instead, follow these crucial winter weather driving tips:

Winding forest road
  • Turn into a slide. Driving on ice leads to the car sliding. Instead of pulling the steering wheel in the opposite direction, remove the foot from the accelerator and turn into the slide. This allows the driver to control and navigate the car from the slide.

  • Drive slower. Always reduce driving speed when navigating in snowy or icy conditions.

  • Keep a safe distance. Allow more room between other vehicles on the road. This allows extra space for skidding when the car needs to stop abruptly.

  • Turn headlights on. Illuminated headlights allow the car to be visible to others on the road. Just be sure to keep the beams on low.

  • Be mindful of 'black ice.' This type of ice glazing isn't black; its name is derived from how the ice camouflages into the road. Drivers might notice that the road ahead looks shiny, but, unfortunately, some patches of black ice give no advanced warning. If the car slides, take the foot off the accelerator and turn into the slide.

  • Slow down on curves. Winding and curvy roads become more dangerous when covered in ice or snow. Take curves slowly and cautiously. 

Is Lake of the Ozarks Dangerous?

Shore Boating Magazine highlighted the importance of understanding the dangers related to the lake temperatures during winter. While most visitors won't venture out on the lake during the coldest part of the year, others enjoy fishing. Unfortunately, falling into the lake during winter leads to serious risks.

As the water temperature drops significantly, an accidental fall into the lake quickly turns into a life-threatening emergency. As the magazine explains, cold water stimulates an individual's gasp reflex as the shock of the temperature causes them to gulp in the air. If the gasp happens underwater, the result can be fatal.

Even when the individual can stay afloat, hypothermia takes just minutes. As the cold overcomes the body, movement becomes slower. If lake visitors decide to go boating during winter, exercise caution and use good judgment. Pack plenty of flotation devices, never go boating alone, and remember a radio.   

Water Temperature for Hypothermia

Lake in the wintertime

Keep in mind that water temperatures of 70 degrees can be dangerous. Ideally, water temperatures should be above 70 degrees; this sounds warm, but keep in mind that the body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. includes minimum, average, and high water temperatures for Lake of the Ozarks via a quick graph. To better understand the risk of cold water drowning and hypothermia, the District is showcasing the lake's average temperature each month. Only three months of the year include an average lake temperature above 70 degrees.


Average Water Temperature (in Degrees Fahrenheit)

























FAQs: All About Hypothermia 

At what temperature does hypothermia set in?

According to the Mayo Clinic, hypothermia sets in when the body reaches a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientific American reports that an individual can only survive in a water temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 20 minutes, and at that point, body strength dissipates. Body weakness makes it harder to stay above water. Thus, the risk of falling into the cold water is hypothermia and drowning not long afterward. 

What are the first signs of hypothermia?

Confusion, sleepiness, and shivering are all signs of hypothermia. In addition, individuals who fall into the cold lake will experience the gasp reflex–a form of hyperventilation triggered by the cold.

How do you treat hypothermia?

Some individuals only need a warm blanket designed to heat their bodies safely. Others might require more intensive treatment and care.

What is the water temperature at Lake of the Ozarks?

In winter, the lake can fall to temperatures below freezing. In the fall and spring, the lake temperatures could fall to a point that increases the risk of hypothermia (if an individual is stranded). 

What is the 50-50-50 rule for hypothermia?

The 50-50-50 rule is a myth. It means that a 50-year-old man falling into 50-degree water will survive for 50 minutes.

Stay Safe at the Lake This Winter

When visitors are planning a trip to Lake of the Ozarks this winter, always check the weather forecast to understand any expected inclement weather. If snow or ice is in the forecast, stay home! If drivers are stuck in the midst of a snowstorm or icy conditions, remember to practice safe driving habits. Don’t follow too closely, drive slowly, remember to turn into a slide, and don’t forget to illuminate the headlights (opt for low beams). The lake water temperatures are dangerously low during winter; understand the risks of cold water drowning and hypothermia; never go boating alone!

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