Canadians across the country experienced some wild winter weather this past weekend and for many regions the bitter cold, snow and freezing rain is expected to continue into the new work week. Multiple provinces are in the midst of a deep freeze, and those heading outdoors should be wary of the risks that such low temperatures can pose.
An arctic air mass settled over the Prairies and northern Ontario Sunday, ushering in temperatures as low as -45 C with the wind chill in some areas, according to Environment Canada.
Southern Ontario will soon feel the same bitter cold, as a cold air mass is expected to bring unseasonably cold temperatures that could plummet below -20 C on the coldest days this week.
Environment Canada has also issued extreme cold warnings for parts of Quebec, where hundreds of thousands were left without power on Sunday, and the Maritimes, where temperatures could feel as low as -35 C by Monday night.
Windburn, frostbite and hypothermia can pose significant risks and set in quickly in these kinds of temperatures, so here is information you can use to stay safe and warm in the winter cold.
To reduce the risk and protect yourself from extreme cold conditions, Health Canada advises:
- Wear appropriate clothing. Choose clothes that are appropriate for the weather; dress in layers with a wind-resistant outer layer; choose warm socks, gloves, hat and a scarf; and change into dry clothing as soon as possible if clothes get wet.
- Use sunglasses, lip balm and sunscreen on sunny days. Wear a facemask and goggles if you are skiing, snowmobiling or skating to protect from frostbite and windburn and keep moving to keep blood flowing.
- Avoid alcohol. If you drink before you go outside, it could increase the risk of hypothermia because of increased blood flowing to your extremities. "You may actually feel warm even though you are losing heat," Health Canada says.
- Find shelter. If there aren't any buildings around, look for a small cave, a ditch, a hollow tree or a vehicle to reduce the chance of frostbite or hypothermia.
If you're active outside on your feet or bike, there are ways to make sure you stay as warm as possible.
- Exercising/running. You want to keep warm but without sweating as sweat in your clothes can lead to a chill. It is advisable to dress like it is a few degrees warmer. So your run will start out cold, but your body will surely heat up due to the physical exertion. Wearing easily removable layers and jackets with front zippers will allow cooling off or bundling up as needed.
- Cycling. Chilling winds and icy conditions can make winter cycling more dangerous. So, before heading out, make sure your bicycle is in perfect working condition. Don’t forget your lights, reflective gear and bell. Protect your face and skin by covering up as much as possible. Like runners, remember that your body will produce its own heat so take that into account.
Protecting your home
Plumbing can be vulnerable to extreme cold and frozen pipes can burst.
Pete Karageorgos, manager of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada in Ontario, says there are many things homeowners can consider — "unfortunately, some of them should have been done before winter started."
That could include ensuring the home is property insulated, particularly in two areas: anywhere related to the plumbing system and outside walls, and around the roof, particularly close to the edge, where the eavestroughs are.
Karageorgos has a few hints for what homeowners can do to a make their home safer:
- Keep the furnace well-maintained. That way it can bear the extra burden when it’s much colder outside.
- Remove snow and ice from outside the home. It's a plus from both the personal safety and legal liability perspectives.
- To prevent frozen pipes, turn off the water supply and drain the pipes if you're going to be away.
- Don't use heat sources like torches or open flames to try to thaw frozen pipes – use a hair dryer instead.
- Have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. If they are hardwired into the electrical system, make sure the backup battery is working.
If you're at home, and unsure if your insulation is adequate to offset frozen pipes, a small, steady flow of water could help prevent freezing.
"Keep a tap or two turned on. Not full blast but enough so some water is flowing through it, because that's the other way to prevent pipes from freezing," says Karageorgos.
Protecting yourself on the road
Winter driving comes with its own challenges, ranging from navigating road surfaces that may be covered in snow and ice to ensuring you're prepared if you suddenly find yourself stranded.
In frigid temperatures, CAA reminds people to pay particularly close attention to their battery, which can be drained of power by the cold.
"Before you attempt to start your car, make sure you have turned off all your accessories including the heater, radio and lights," Silvana Aceto, a media relations consultant for CAA South Central Ontario, says.
CAA recommends checking tire pressure regularly and keeping the gas tank at least half full to help avoid a fuel line freeze. Drivers should also keep the following items in their cars:
- Fully charged cellphone.
- Ice scraper and snow brush.
- Booster cables.
- Extra clothing and footwear.
- Blankets and sleeping bags.
- Windshield washer fluid.
- Bottled water.
- Granola or energy bars.
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