COLD WAVE Preparedness and Safety

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Publishing Organisation:
University of Winnipeg
  • English
  • Cold wave
Disaster Management Phase

Before, During

Cold waves can last for weeks and can have an effect on infrastructure, machinery, and health and safety. Frost bite and hypothermia pose a serious risk to people.

You can protect yourself and your household from the many hazards of a cold wave and winter conditions by planning ahead


  • Be aware once a “special weather statement” or windchill warning will be issued.
  • As infrastructure could be affected, the following are additional items that may be considered:
    • An alternate heat source with extra fuel.
      • Ensure that there is proper ventilation.
      • Never burn charcoal indoors.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher on hand and make sure that the household knows how to use it.
  • Prepare for possible isolation in your home. Keep a stock of food and extra drinking water.


  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Listen to the radio or television for weather reports and emergency information.
  • Conserve fuel, if necessary, by temporarily closing off heat to some rooms.
  • Eat to supply heat to the body and drink non-alcoholic beverages to avoid dehydration.


  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing.
    • The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  • Mittens are warmer than gloves.
  • Cover your head as most body heat is lost through the top of the head.
  • Cover your mouth to protect your lungs.
  • Use caution when shovelling snow.
    • Over exertion can bring on a heart attack — a major cause of death in the winter.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite: loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.
    • If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location and remove any wet clothing.
    • If conscious, warm the centre of the body first by giving warm, non-alcoholic beverages.
    • Seek medical help as soon as possible.


About 70 per cent of winter deaths related to snow and ice occur in automobiles.

  • Consider public transportation if you must travel.
  • If you travel by car, travel in the day, don’t travel alone, and keep others informed of your schedule.
  • Stay on main roads; avoid back-road shortcuts.
  • Winterize your car.
    • This includes checking battery, antifreeze, wipers, windshield washer fluid, ignition system, thermostat, lights, flashing hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster, oil level, and tires.
    • Consider snow tires and keep your car’s gas tank full.
    • Carry a basic vehicle emergency kit in the trunk of your vehicle.
  • If you get trapped in your car:
    • Pull off the highway.
    • Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window.
    • Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you.
    • Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.
      • Be careful: distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close but be too far to walk to in deep snow.
    • Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm.
    • When the engine is running, open a window slightly for ventilation.
      • This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
    • Periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe.
    • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion.
    • In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers and floor mats for insulation.
    • Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.
    • Take turns sleeping.
      • One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.
    • Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
    • Be careful not to waste battery power.
    • Balance electrical energy needs — the use of lights, heat, and radio — with supply.
    • At night, turn on the inside light so work crews or rescuers can see you.
    • If stranded in a remote area, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.


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