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Don’t Get Stuck in the Cold — Stay Warm, Stay Safe this Winter Season

PORT HOPE, ON (January 17, 2024) – Extreme cold can be dangerous for everyone, so knowing how to prepare and keep warm during extreme cold conditions will help you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy this winter season.

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, however risks from exposure to extreme cold, including frostbite, frostnip, and hypothermia, increase at wind chill values below -27°C. You can stay informed with local weather forecasts and receive alerts using the WeatherCan app, and check with your municipality for additional resources, including warming centres and response plans.

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident, extreme cold conditions will become more frequent and intense, which pose significant health risks that require proactive measures. Cold-related illnesses can develop rapidly and can cause long-term effects. The most dangerous illnesses include hypothermia and frostbite, which can be treated upon early symptoms. Seek medical attention immediately if you or someone around you experiences symptoms of hypothermia or severe frostbite.

  • Hypothermia develops in three stages beginning with shivering, numb hands, rapid and shallow breathing, tiredness and nausea. If the body continues to cool, hypothermia will progress to include strong shivering, slow movements, pale or blue skin, and in some cases death.
  • Frostbite typically appears on hands, ears, nose and feet. Mild frostbite (frostnip) makes skin appear yellowish or white, but it still soft to touch, and should be warmed as soon as possible to prevent worsening. Severe frostbite causes nerve damage, discoloured and dark skin, and will eventually result in blisters and loss of feeling at the affected area. Risk of infection increases at this point which can result in loss of limbs.

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, and sports/outdoor enthusiasts.

“As we move into the winter season we must prepare for extreme cold temperatures and winter storms that we typically experience within our communities every year,” says Bernie Mayer, Manager of Health Protection with the HKPR District Health Unit. “It is important to recognize that some people are more likely to be negatively impacted by these conditions, and we can support our family, friends and neighbours by taking preventative measures and checking in on those who are most vulnerable.”

The HKPR District Health Unit emphasizes that cold-related illnesses are preventable, and it is most important to stay warm and avoid direct exposure during extreme cold conditions. Here are some steps you can take to prepare:

  • Dress in layers and wear appropriate outdoor clothing. This includes wearing a warm coat, winter pants and socks, gloves, a hat and scarf when you must be outdoors.
  • Prepare your home for the winter. Make sure your heating system works efficiently and seal all cracks and drafts near windows and doors to keep the heat in. Ensure you have any supplies required to maintain your primary heat source and consider adding a back-up generator or secondary heat source (if possible) to use during power outages.
  • Consider your personal health risks. Talk your health care provider about your personal risks to cold weather, and if you have health problems such as a heart condition you may want to avoid strenuous activities like shovelling snow.
  • Know the weather conditions. Check local weather forecasts and alerts so you can prepare for travel conditions and adjust outdoor plans when a special weather statement is issued.
  • Prepare an emergency kit for your home and vehicle. Ensure your 72-hour emergency kit in case of emergencies at home, but also create a winter kit for your vehicle that includes food, water, flashlight, extra clothing, a small shovel, and other essential items that you may need if you get stuck travelling during a winter storm.

As winter approaches and temperatures drop, it is essential to be prepared for extreme cold conditions and winter storms to protect yourself and loved ones. Extreme cold can pose significant health risks, but with proper preparation and precautions, you can minimize the impact and safely enjoy the winter season.

For more information on how to prepare for the extreme cold and to protect your health this winter, please visit: hkpr.on.ca/Cold

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