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Extreme Cold

Extreme cold can be dangerous for everyone, but the following groups have higher health risks; people who work outdoors, the elderly, some people with disabilities, people who are pregnant, and children and infants. Knowing how to prepare and keep warm during extreme cold conditions will help you stay safe and healthy.

Cold Weather Alert Criteria

In Southern Ontario, an Extreme Cold Weather Alert is issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada when the temperature or wind chill is expected to reach -30°C for at least two (2) hours.

Cold Warning and Information System (CWIS)

To help residents of the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit (HKPR District Health Unit) area take protective action during extreme cold weather events, the Ontario CWIS enables public health units to reduce cold-related illnesses by alerting the public about extreme cold weather events, directing community response and outreach to at-risk and priority populations, and providing individuals with information on how to prevent cold-related illnesses.

There is currently no cold warning issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada for the HKPR District Health Unit area at this time. Visit Environment and Climate Change Canada website for more weather information.

Local Cold Warnings and Alerts

City of Kawartha Lakes Currently No Cold Warning in Effect

County of Haliburton Currently No Cold Warning in Effect

Northumberland County Currently No Cold Warning in Effect

Health Impacts

Extreme cold events occur when winter temperatures drop significantly below average for that time of the year. According to Health Canada, risks from exposure to extreme cold, including frostbite, frostnip, and hypothermia, increase at wind chill values below -27°C.

There are three stages of hypothermia:
Stage 1 - When your body temperature drops by 1 or 2ºC (1.8 or 3.6ºF), you start shivering, get goose bumps on your skin, and your hands become numb. Your breath can become quick and shallow, and you may feel tired and/or sick to your stomach. You may also experience a warm sensation, which means your body is entering stage 2 of hypothermia.

If you or someone you are with is experiencing symptoms of stage 1 hypothermia take the following actions immediately:

  • find shelter
  • keep your muscles moving
  • dry and (gradually) warm your body
  • wrap yourself in blankets/dry clothing or reheat your body by skin-to-skin contact with another person
  • drink warm, sweet liquids
  • don't fight shivering, this is one of the ways your body increases its core temperature
  • if the person is unconscious lay them down and avoid shaking them or handling them roughly as they may have an arrhythmia (irregular heart beat)

Stage 2 - Your body temperature has dropped by 2 - 4ºC (3.8 - 7.6ºF) and your shivering is strong. Muscles are uncoordinated and movements are slow and laboured. You may suffer mild confusion, become pale, and your lips, ears, fingers, and toes may turn blue.

Stage 3 - If your body temperature drops below 32ºC (89.6ºF), the shivering will stop but you'll have trouble speaking, thinking, and walking. You may even develop amnesia. When your body temperature drops below 30ºC (86.0ºF), exposed skin becomes blue and puffy, it will be hard to move your muscles and your behaviour becomes irrational. Your heart may be beating quickly but your pulse and breathing will decrease. At this stage you are at risk of death.

Severe cases of hypothermia (such as stages 2 and 3) require immediate medical attention. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number.

Mild frostbite (frostnip) can be treated in two ways:

  • Passive warming - move to a warm room, wrap yourself in blankets or reheat your body by skin-to-skin contact with another person.
  • Active warming - this can be done along with passive warming. Add heat directly to the frostbitten area. The idea is to thaw the injured skin as quickly as possible without burning yourself. Thawing frostbitten skin is very painful so the injured skin should be placed in water that is just above body temperature. Do not rub, massage or shake the injured skin because that can cause more damage.

Severe frostbite requires immediate medical attention. While you are waiting for help to arrive begin treating it with passive and active warming.

Everyone's health can be affected by extreme cold and cold weather conditions. However, some people are at a higher risk of experiencing cold-related health impacts, including:

  • Infants and children
  • Older adults
  • People with pre-existing medical conditions and people taking certain medications
  • People who lack adequate shelter or who are unhoused
  • Newcomers to Canada
  • Outdoor workers
  • Sports/outdoor enthusiasts

Sign Up: Extreme Weather Alerts

Receive extreme weather alerts directly to your mobile device.

Reduce your Risk

Protect yourself from extreme cold conditions by following these tips.

  • Wear appropriate clothing. Dress in layers with a wind resistant outer layer. Wear warm socks, gloves, a hat and scarf in cold weather.
  • Protect yourself from UV rays. On sunny days wear sun glasses, lip balm and sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays and keep it moisturized to help prevent windburn.
  • Keep moving (especially your hands and feet) to keep your blood flowing and maintain your body heat.
  • Know the weather conditions. Pay attention to weather alerts in your area, and adjust outdoor plans it a special weather statement and warning are issued.
  • Find shelter. If you are caught in a severe snowstorm, or outside in extreme cold conditions, seek for shelter immediately. 
  • Winterize your home. Make sure your heating system is working efficiently and seal all cracks and drafts to keep the heat in.
  • Avoid alcohol. Consuming alcohol before you go out in the cold may increase your risk of hypothermia because it increases blood flow to the extremities of the body. You may actually feel warm even though you are losing heat.
  • Know your personal health risks. Talk to your health care professional to see if you are at an increased risk from extreme cold due to a medical condition.

For more information, please visit the Extreme Cold webpage from the Government of Canada or from the National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health.

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