Stay Safe During Extreme Cold Weather

From the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Bitter cold temperatures and dangerously cold wind chills are forecast for later this week. Forecasts from the National Weather Service for late Thursday night and early Friday morning include low temperatures between 10° and -5° and wind chill values expected to be cold as -15° to -25° across the interior and -5° to -15° near the coast. While temperatures are expected to warm up by the weekend, extreme cold temperatures and wind chills can be dangerous.

“MEMA urges residents to take precautions during the upcoming extreme cold weather. If you must go outside, dress for the conditions by covering up as much as possible and wear warm layers.” said Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Director Kurt Schwartz. “Please check on your family, friends, or neighbors to make sure they are safe during the extreme cold.”

Download the CDC Extreme Cold Guide.

Prolonged exposure to the cold can lead to serious health issues including frostbite and in extreme cases, hypothermia. Therefore, MEMA urges residents to minimize outside activities during the extreme cold and to follow these safety tips: 

  • Dress in several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing instead of a single heavy layer.
  • Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  • Wear a hat, mittens (not gloves), and sturdy waterproof boots to protect your extremities.
  • Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.

Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia

 do not walk on frostbitten feet, do not use a heating pad or heat lamp for warming, do not rub frostbitten skin.Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately.

The warning signs of hypothermia include:

  • uncontrollable shivering
  • memory loss
  • disorientation
  • incoherence
  • slurred speech
  • drowsiness
  • apparent exhaustion

Get the victim to a warm location. If the person’s temperature drops below 95 degrees, seek immediate medical care.

View the CDC's infographic on Hypothermia and Frostbite.

Have a well-stocked home Emergency Kit that includes:

  • a flashlight
  • sleeping bag or blanket
  • portable radio
  • extra batteries
  • a first aid kit
  • bottled water
  • non-perishable food.

Add seasonal supplies to your emergency kit such as extra winter clothing and blankets.

Make sure your car is properly winterized.  Keep the gas tank at least half-full. 

Carry a Winter Emergency Car Kit in the trunk including:

  • blankets
  • extra clothing
  • a flashlight with spare batteries
  • a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for drinking water)
  • non-perishable foods
  • windshields scraper
  • shovel
  • sand
  • towrope
  • jumper cables

Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions, and those who may need additional assistance.

Limit outdoor time for your pets. Freezing temperatures are dangerous to animals as well as humans. 

Wrap pipes in insulation or layers of newspapers covered with plastic to keep them from freezing. Allow a trickle of warm water to run from a faucet that is farthest from your water meter or one that has frozen in the past.  This will keep the water moving so that it cannot freeze.  If pipes freeze, remove insulation, completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes or wrap them with towels soaked in hot water, starting where they are most exposed to the cold.  A hair dryer, used with caution, works well to thaw pipes.

Although temperatures may be cold, bodies of water covered in ice are likely unsafe given recent temperature fluctuations. Residents are urged to stay off frozen bodies of water until ice is at least 4” thick.

Ensure you have sufficient heating fuel, as well as alternate emergency heating equipment in case you lose electricity. When utilizing alternate heating sources, such as an emergency generator, your fireplace, wood stove, or space heater, take necessary safety precautions:

Keep a fire extinguisher handy and ensure everyone knows how to use it properly.

Carbon Monoxide — an odorless, colorless killer

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911 immediately, get the victim to fresh air, and open windows.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that kills without warning. It claims the lives of hundreds of people every year, and makes thousands more ill.

Signs of CO poisoning:

  • Dull headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision
  • Loss of consciousness.

Many household items produce CO, including:

  • gas- and oil-burning furnaces
  • portable generators
  • charcoal grills
  • fireplaces

Never heat your home with a gas stove or oven or charcoal barbecue grill. Make sure your furnace is properly vented, and that the flue on your fireplace is open whenever you have a fire. Always operate a generator outdoors and away from your home.

Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from space heaters.

Make sure you test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

View the CDC infographic on CO Poisoning.

If you need information on the location of open warming centers or shelters check with local authorities or call 2-1-1.

Find out more about MEMA and Extreme Cold Safety Tips

Photo, Weddell seals in Erebus Bay, Antarctica, courtesy USGS