When winter temperatures drop significantly below normal, staying warm and safe can become a challenge. According to a 2014 CDC National Health Statistics Report, during 2006–2010, about 6,600 U.S. residents died from exposure to excessive natural cold, hypothermia, or both.
What is extremely cold weather? The definition of extreme cold can vary. After all, what is cold to one person may not feel that cold to another. People who live in regions with relatively few days of freezing temperatures are not accustomed to them when they go to colder areas.
Whenever temperatures drop below what feels lower than normal to you—and as wind speed increases—heat can leave your body more rapidly and leave you at risk of health problems.
Extremely cold temperatures are often accompanied by winter storms, so in addition to the risks of the cold, you may also have to cope with power failures and icy roads. Staying indoors as much as possible can reduce the risks of car crashes and falls on the ice, but you may also face indoor hazards. Many homes will be too cold—either due to a power failure or because the heating system isn’t adequate for the weather. When people must use space heaters and fireplaces to stay warm, the risk of household fires increases, as well as the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
If you are prepared for the hazards of winter, you will be more likely to stay safe and healthy when temperatures start to fall.
- Winterize your home. Install weather stripping, insulation, and storm windows.
- Get your car ready for cold weather. Service the radiator and maintain antifreeze level; check tire tread or, if necessary, replace tires with all-weather or snow tires. Keep an emergency kit in your car including blankets, food and water, first aid, and other items you may need if you are stranded
- Be prepared for weather-related emergencies, including power outages.
- Prevent CO poisoning. Install a CO detector and check that it has a working battery. Have your heating system checked by a qualified professional. Never use a gas range or oven to heat your home.
- Take precaution when spending time outdoors. Wear appropriate outdoor clothing and be aware of the wind chill factor. Check weather reports, telling someone where you are going to be (if long drive or ice fishing). Always have a fully charged cellphone and carry a portable recharger, if possible
- Be aware of current and forecast weather conditions when planning for travel.
- Learn how to avoid, spot and treat frostbite and hypothermia.
- If you have pets, bring them inside. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate, warm shelter and unfrozen water to drink.