Cold Weather Tips

Posted at: 12/09/2013 11:14 AM
Updated at: 12/09/2013 11:24 AM

Winter Weather Tips from the CDC

When temperatures drop significantly below normal, staying warm and safe can be a challenge. Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions.

Before a Storm
During a Storm
After a Storm

Before a Storm

Prepare for a winter storm before it hits. The best way to keep your family and yourself safe is to plan ahead.

Prepare Your Home for Winter
Although periods of extreme cold cannot always be predicted far in advance, weather forecasts can sometimes provide you with several days’ notice. Listen to weather forecasts regularly, and check your emergency supplies whenever a period of extreme cold is predicted.

If you plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency heating, have your chimney or flue inspected each year. Ask your local fire department to recommend an inspector, or find one in the yellow pages of your telephone directory under "chimney cleaning."

Icicles Hanging from Rooftop
Also, if you’ll be using a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater, install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated. Test them monthly, and replace batteries twice a year.

Your ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age, and older people are more susceptible to health problems caused by cold. If you are over 65 years old, place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently, and check the temperature of your home often during the winter months.

Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so your water supply will be less likely to freeze. To the extent possible, weatherproof your home by adding weather-stripping, insulation, insulated doors and storm windows, or thermal-pane windows.

If you have pets, bring them indoors. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure that they have access to unfrozen water.

    Insulate walls and attic.
    Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
    Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
    Insulate any water lines that run along outer walls (water will be less likely to freeze).
    Service snow-removal equipment.
    Have chimney and flue inspected.
    Install easy-to-read outdoor thermometer.

Prepare Your Car for Winter
You can avoid many dangerous winter travel problems by planning ahead. Have maintenance service on your vehicle as often as the manufacturer recommends. In addition, every fall:

-Have the radiator system serviced, or check the antifreeze level yourself with an antifreeze tester. Add antifreeze, as needed.
-Replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture.
-Replace any worn tires, and check the air pressure in the tires.

During winter, keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines

Keep your car fueled and in good working order. Be sure to check the following:

    Windshield wiper fluid (wintertime mixture)
    Emergency flashers
    Tires (air pressure and wear)
    Brake fluid

Winter Weather Checklists
Stock up on emergency supplies for communication, food, safety, heating, and car in case a storm hits.

Communication Checklist
Make sure you have at least one of the following in case there is a power failure:
        Battery-powered radio (for listening to local emergency instructions). Have extra batteries.
        National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio receiver (for listening to National Weather Service broadcasts).
            Learn more about NOAA Weather Radio All HazardsExternal Web Site Icon
    Find out how your community warns the public about severe weather:
    Listen to emergency broadcasts.
    Know what winter storm warning terms mean:
        Winter Weather Advisory: Expect winter weather conditions to cause inconvenience and hazards.
        Frost/Freeze Warning: Expect below-freezing temperatures.
        Winter Storm Watch: Be alert; a storm is likely.
        Winter Storm Warning: Take action; the storm is in or entering the area.
        Blizzard Warning: Seek refuge immediately! Snow and strong winds, near-zero visibility, deep snow drifts, and life-threatening wind chill.

Food and Safety Checklist
Have a week's worth of food and safety supplies. If you live far from other people, have more supplies on hand.

    Drinking water
    Canned/no-cook food (bread, crackers, dried fruits)
    Non-electric can opener
    Baby food and formula (if baby in the household)
    Prescription drugs and other medicine
    First-aid kit
    Rock-salt to melt ice on walkways
    Supply of cat litter or bag of sand to add traction on walkways
    Flashlight and extra batteries
    Battery-powered lamps or lanterns
    (To prevent the risk of fire, avoid using candles.)

Water Checklist
Keep a water supply. Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home to freeze and sometimes break.

    Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
    Keep the indoor temperature warm.
    Allow more heated air near pipes. Open kitchen cabinet doors under the kitchen sink.
    If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch. Thaw the pipes slowly with warm air from an electric hair dryer.
    If you cannot thaw your pipes, or if the pipes have broken open, use bottled water or get water from a neighbor’s home.
    Have bottled water on hand.
    In an emergency—if no other water is available—snow can be melted for water. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill most germs but won’t get rid of chemicals sometimes found in snow.

Heating Checklist
    Have at least one of the following heat sources in case the power goes out:
        Fireplace with plenty of dry firewood or gas log fireplace
        Portable space heaters or kerosene heaters
    Check with your local fire department to make sure that kerosene heaters are legal in your area.
    Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
    Use electric space heaters with
        automatic shut-off switches and
        nonglowing elements.
    Keep heat sources at least 3 feet away from furniture and drapes.
    Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
    Have the following safety equipment:
        Chemical fire extinguisher
        Smoke alarm in working order (Check once a month and change batteries once a year.)
        Carbon monoxide detector
    Never use an electric generator indoors, inside the garage, or near the air intake of your home because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning:
        Do not use the generator or appliances if they are wet.
        Do not store gasoline indoors where the fumes could ignite.
        Use individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords to plug in other appliances.

Cooking and Lighting Checklist
    Never use charcoal grills or portable gas camp stove indoors—the fumes are deadly.
    Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns.
    Avoid using candles.
    Never leave lit candles alone.

Car and Emergency Checklist
    Cell phone; portable charger and extra batteries
    Windshield scraper
    Battery-powered radio (and extra batteries)
    Flashlight (and extra batteries)
    Snack food
    Extra hats, coats, mittens
    Chains or rope
    Tire chains
    Canned compressed air with sealant (emergency tire repair)
    Road salt and sand
    Booster cables
    Emergency flares
    Bright colored flag; help signs
    First aid kit
    Tool kit
    Road maps
    Waterproof matches and a can (to melt snow for water)
    Paper towels

During a Storm

Extremely cold temperatures often accompany a winter storm, so you may have to cope with power failures and icy roads. Follow these important steps to protect yourself and your family. Although staying indoors as much as possible can help reduce the risk of car crashes and falls on the ice, 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 poisoning. Find out what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

Indoor Safety

Heat Your Home Safely
If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these safety tips:

Use fireplace, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.
    Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
    Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater.
    Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don’t substitute.
    Do not place a space heater within 3 feet of anything that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding, and never cover your space heater.
    Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
    Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
    Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
    Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater.
    If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.
    Store a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
    Protect yourself from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning by installing a battery-operated CO detector and never using generators, grills, camp stoves, or similar devices indoors.

Cook Safely
    Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors—the fumes are deadly.
    Never use an electric generator indoors, inside the garage, or near the air intake of your house because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
    Plug in appliances to the generator using individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords.
    Do not use the generator or appliances if they are wet because of the risk of electrocution.
    Do not store gasoline indoors where the fumes could ignite.

Light Your Home Safely
If there is a power failure:
    Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles, if possible.
    Never leave lit candles unattended.

Conserve Heat
You may need fresh air coming in for your heater or for emergency cooking arrangements. However, if you don’t need extra ventilation, keep as much heat as possible inside your home. Avoid unnecessary opening of doors or windows. Close off unneeded rooms, stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors, and close draperies or cover windows with blankets at night.

Monitor Body Temperature
Infants less than one year old should never sleep in a cold room because (1) infants lose body heat more easily than adults; and (2) unlike adults, infants can’t make enough body heat by shivering. Provide warm clothing for infants and try to maintain a warm indoor temperature. If the temperature cannot be maintained, make temporary arrangements to stay elsewhere. In an emergency, you can keep an infant warm using your own body heat. If you must sleep, take precautions to prevent rolling on the baby. Pillows and other soft bedding can also present a risk of smothering; remove them from the area near the baby.

Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. If you are over 65 years of age, check the temperature in your home often during severely cold weather. Also, check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that their homes are adequately heated.
Keep a Water Supply

Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home to freeze and sometimes rupture. When very cold temperatures are expected:

    Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
    Keep the indoor temperature warm.
    Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes. For example, open kitchen cabinet doors beneath the kitchen sink.

If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch. Instead, thaw them slowly by directing the warm air from an electric hair dryer onto the pipes.

If you cannot thaw your pipes, or the pipes are ruptured, use bottled water or get water from a neighbor’s home. As an emergency measure—if no other water is available—snow can be melted for water. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill most microorganisms or parasites that may be present, but won’t remove chemical pollutants sometimes found in snow.

Eat and Drink Wisely
Eating well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer. Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages—they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to help maintain your body temperature. If you have any dietary restrictions, ask your doctor.

Outdoor Safety

When the weather is extremely cold, and especially if there are high winds, try to stay indoors. Make any trips outside as brief as possible, and remember these tips below to protect your health and safety.

Dress Warmly and Stay Dry
Adults and children should wear:
    a hat
    a scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
    sleeves that are snug at the wrist
    mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
    water-resistant coat and boots
    several layers of loose-fitting clothing

Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry—wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body. Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

Avoid Frostbite and Hypothermia
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.

Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

Avoid Exertion
Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold. Otherwise, if you have to do heavy outdoor chores, dress warmly and work slowly. Remember, your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so don’t overdo it.

Walking on ice is extremely dangerous. Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways, and porches. Keep your steps and walkways as free of ice as possible by using rock salt or another chemical de-icing compound. Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping.

Be Safe During Recreation
Notify friends and family where you will be before you go hiking, camping, or skiing. Do not leave areas of the skin exposed to the cold. Avoid perspiring or becoming overtired. Be prepared to take emergency shelter. Pack dry clothing, a two-wave radio, waterproof matches and paraffin fire starters with you. Do not use alcohol and other mood altering substances, and avoid caffeinated beverages. Avoid walking on ice or getting wet. Carefully watch for signs of cold-weather health problems.

Be Cautious About Travel
    Listen for radio or television reports of travel advisories issued by the National Weather Service.
    Do not travel in low visibility conditions.
    Avoid traveling on ice-covered roads, overpasses, and bridges if at all possible.
    If you must travel by car, use tire chains and take a mobile phone with you.
    If you must travel, let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive. Ask them to notify authorities if you are late.
    Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your car before you leave.
    Never pour water on your windshield to remove ice or snow; shattering may occur.
    Don’t rely on a car to provide sufficient heat; the car may break down.
    Always carry additional warm clothing appropriate for the winter conditions.

What to Do if You Get Stranded
Staying in your vehicle when stranded is often the safest choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if roadways are ice covered. These steps will increase your safety when stranded:
    Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers and raise the hood of the car (if it is not snowing).
    Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
    Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
    Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
    Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe—this will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
    As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
    Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body temperature.
    Huddle with other people for warmth.

After a Storm

When returning home or cleaning up after a winter storm, you can take steps to stay safe and healthy.

Returning Home After a Storm
Take steps to stay safe from carbon monoxide, electrical hazards, food and water safety concerns, and other hazards you might face if you had to leave your home during the storm.

Returning Home After a Disaster: Be Healthy and Safe

Clean Up After a Storm
Learn how to safely clean up after a winter weather storm.

When cleaning up after a winter storm, you can take steps to stay safe and healthy. To learn more, see Clean Up Safely After a Disaster, which provides tips relevant to all types of disasters.

Clean Up Safely After a Disaster