February 19, 2021

CDC Emergency Preparedness During Extreme Winter Weather

Large sections of the United States are struggling with extreme cold, snow, ice, and high winds. If extreme winter weather is affecting your area, follow the tips below to help keep you and your family safe. If you must leave your home, listen to state and local officials to learn about warming centers as well as storm warnings and road conditions.
 
Snow plow clearing a street during a winter storm.
Protect yourself from deadly carbon monoxide poisoning
 
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can lead to serious illness or death. CO is produced by furnaces, vehicles, portable generators, stoves, lanterns, gas ranges, and burning wood. Don’t heat your house with a gas oven or burn anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented. If your power goes out, never use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline- or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage. If using any of these devices, make sure they are always outside, 20 feet or more away from windows, doors, and vents.
Other safety tips include
  • Never run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the garage door open.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you feel dizzy, light-headed, or nauseated and suspect CO poisoning.
  • If you have a CO detector, leave your home immediately and call 911 if it sounds.
Do not siphon gasoline by mouth to fuel your generator. Accidental ingestion can cause serious illness or death. Contact your local poison center (1-800-222-1222) for advice if you or someone you know has experienced gasoline exposure.
Protect yourself from the cold
 
CDC also recommends that you take precautions when spending time outdoors. Wear appropriate outdoor clothing and be aware of the wind chill factor. Dress warmly and stay dry, wearing multiple layers. Before going out, check weather reports, tell someone where you are going, and keep your cell phone charged. Learn how to avoid, spot, and treat hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia
Hypothermia is an abnormally low body temperature caused by prolonged exposure to cold. Hypothermia often occurs at very cold temperatures, but can occur at cool temperatures (above 40°F), if a person is wet (from rain, sweat or cold water) and becomes chilled. In adults, warning signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion or feeling very tired, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. In babies, signs include bright red, cold skin, and very low energy. If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95° F, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately.
Frostbite
Frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. It can lead to a loss of feeling and color in the areas it affects, usually the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Signs of frostbite include a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and numbness. If you notice signs of frostbite, seek medical care.
This winter, don’t forget COVID-19 precautions
 
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, CDC continues to advise precautions to keep yourself and others healthy.
  • If you go into a public building or warming shelter to stay warm, wear a mask and bring hand sanitizer. Stay at least 6 feet from others.
  • Scarves, ski masks, and balaclavas are not a substitute for masks. Wear your scarf, ski mask, or balaclava over your mask. If it is too cold to safely open doors or windows, consider other approaches for reducing virus particles in the air, such as using air filtration and bathroom and stove exhaust fans.
Other ways to protect yourself and your family
 
Electric space heaters
If you use an electric space heater, use one with an automatic shut-off switch and nonglowing elements. Make sure it is at least 3 feet away from drapes, furniture, or bedding. 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.
Water
Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home to freeze and sometimes rupture or break. When you are expecting very cold or freezing temperatures:
  • Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
  • Allow heated air to reach pipes. For example, open cabinet doors beneath the kitchen and bathroom sinks.
Food
If the power is out for less than 4 hours, then the food in your refrigerator and freezer will be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep food cold for longer.
Medicine
Some drugs require refrigeration to keep their strength, including many liquid drugs.
  • When the power is out for a day or more, throw away any medication that should be refrigerated unless the drug’s label says otherwise.
  • If a life depends on the refrigerated drug, but the medications have been at room temperature, use them only until a new supply is available.
  • Replace all refrigerated drugs as soon as possible.
Click here to learn more aboutStaying Safe During and After a Winter Storm