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Winter Weather Woes

Winter Weather Woes

This winter has brought more winter weather woes than usual, as the polar vortex has hit North America, bringing with it record-breaking cold. The past week has seen the coldest weather in a generation. Schools have been called off, businesses are closed, flights are cancelled, the US Postal Service has suspended service in some states, and thousands of homes have been without power. Chicago has been colder than Mt. Everest base camp. The U.S. Midwest has had lower temperatures than the South Pole. This is dangerously cold.  

Last Wednesday, Anchorage, Alaska had a high of 34. Mt. Everest Base Camp had a high of 10, and even Siberia had a high temperature of 8. And Chicago had a high of -12. Detroit’s high was -3, and Windsor, Ontario had a high of -4 Fahrenheit. What’s going on with this weather? The polar vortex is a large area of extremely cold air which is usually swirling over the Arctic, with winds that trap the cold air around the polar regions. But "disturbances in the jet stream and the intrusion of warmer mid-latitude air masses can disturb the polar air and make it unstable, sending this Arctic air south." So the middle latitudes, including the US and Canada have received air straight from the Arctic. NASA

With such frigid temperatures gripping so much of North America, it is advisable to take great care and extreme caution when venturing outside. Hypothermia begins to set in when body temperature drops from 98.6 degrees to about 95 degrees, and the body begins to shut down. Your heart rate and breathing slows down, and you begin to get sleepy. In extreme temperatures, hypothermia and frostbite can set in rapidly (frostbite can set in within 3-10 minutes), so limit your time outside and dress appropriately, keeping your head and extremities well covered. Dress in layers, and don't forget your hat, scarf, and gloves. 

Infants and older adults are particularly at risk in extreme cold, so make sure that infants are sleeping in warm rooms and are adequately dressed, and check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to make sure that their homes are warm. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has many helpful tips for staying warm during winter storms:

  • Be careful when using wood stoves, fireplaces, or space heaters to heat your home.
  • Avoid using candles during a power outage. Use flashlights or lanterns instead.
  • Never use an electric generator or a gas or charcoal grill indoors. The fumes are deadly. Conserve heat in your home.
  • Monitor body temperature for infants and older adults.
  • Leave water taps slightly open to prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Eat well balanced meals to stay warm. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.   CDC

Having warm shelter can be life-saving in extreme cold, and it is imperative to keep your warm shelter working.

Here are some winter weather tips for your home:


Pipes are very susceptible to freezing, and repairs can be extremely expensive.  

  • Learn how to shut off water valves in case a pipe burst.
  • Leave water taps dripping continuously in freezing temperatures.
  • Keep the indoor temperature warm.
  • Improve the circulation of heated air near your pipes. If you have pipes inside kitchen cabinets, open the cabinet doors.
  • If your pipes do freeze, HERE is a helpful video from Pennsylvania American Water showing you how to thaw your pipes. 

**If you are leaving your home unoccupied for a season, you should shut off the water supply and drain the pipes. A water leak in an unoccupied home can cause catastrophic damage.

Exterior walls get very cold, and they radiate this chill into your home. The walls heat up far more slowly than the air in your house; if your house is poorly insulated, your exterior walls may be many degrees colder than the air in your home. So, here are some ideas for keeping your house warm: 

  • Close off unneeded rooms.
  • Close those blinds. Closing your blinds, shades, and/or curtains at night adds another layer of insulation to those windows; it helps to keep the cold air out and the warm air in.
  • Stuff towels in cracks under doors. 
  • Cover those walls. Did you know that you could help insulate your home and reduce energy loss by covering your walls with framed pictures, mirrors, tapestries, or —best of all— bookshelves? Bookcases full of books make a great barrier —helping to keep that cold air outside where it belongs.
  • Move that furniture. Simply moving furniture (sofas, beds, desks, etc.) away from the cold exterior walls can help you feel warmer.


Are you prepared for a Winter Weather Emergency?

Winter Weather Preparedness Kit

Putting together an emergency kit will ensure that you have everything you need in case of a blizzard, storm, or extensive power outage.  Some suggestions are:

  • Flashlights & batteries
  • Candles & Matches
  • Battery-powered radio (2-way radio is preferred)
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Bottled water
  • A week’s worth of non-perishable food
  • Can opener
  • First aid kit and necessary medications
  • Shovel, road salt, ice scraper