Cold Weather Safety

outside snow

Fall and winter in the Island Health region may see an increase in health risks due to cold, snowfall, flooding and power outages during storms. Prolonged summer droughts may weaken trees and result in more windfall during winter storms, increasing risks of injury and power outages. The effects of drought and wildfire on vegetation and run-off may also increase the risk of floods and landslides during winter rain events.

At-risk groups include:
  • People experiencing homelessness or unstable housing situations
  • People experiencing “energy poverty” who struggle to heat and power their homes
  • People whose homes are situated on floodplains, beside streams, at the base of burned slopes or on geologically unstable surfaces such as alluvial fan (gravel) deposits.
  • People who live alone or are isolated
  • People with limited mobility
  • People who use substances
  • People who depend on electricity for medical reasons (e.g., home hemodialysis equipment, ventilators, oxygen concentrators, power wheelchairs, refrigeration for insulin)
  • People who spend much time outdoors for work, recreation, travel
  • People with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, peripheral neuropathy and diseases affecting blood vessels
  • People taking certain medications, such as beta blockers
Symptoms/risks of extreme cold and related weather

Cold temperatures and storm conditions can impact the health of at-risk community members. If you experience any of the symptoms below seek medical attention immediately or call 911.

Trenchfoot: a non-freezing cold injury due to continuous exposure to cold and wet, resulting in tingling, itching, burning or blistered feet that are prone to infection and require medical attention.

Frostbite: occurs when exposed ears, fingers, toes or cheeks begin to freeze and results in tingling, stinging or aching followed by numbness and change in skin texture (firm, waxy, white, gray or yellow in color). Frostbite should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Hypothermia: occurs when body heat is lost faster than it can be replaced. It can occur quickly during cold, wind, rain or sudden immersion, and can lead to unconsciousness and death if heat loss isn’t stopped. It can also occur more gradually in homes kept below 18°C, especially in older adults. Early symptoms include shivering (in adults and older children); clumsy movements; apathy (lack of concern); poor judgment; and cold, pale, or blue-grey skin. Hypothermia is a medical emergency; seek treatment immediately.

Unsheltered people who camp may be vulnerable to rapidly rising flood waters, collapsing banks or windfall from damaged or drought-weakened trees. They are also at risk of fire, burns and carbon monoxide poisoning when using fuel-burning devices to heat enclosures. Risks can be reduced with designated outdoor camping areas that feature basic services.


In the event of a flood be aware of the following hazards:

  • Drownings, often when trying to cross moving water on foot or in vehicles
  • Electrical hazards when equipment inside or outside the home is submerged
  • Respiratory hazards, such as mould and asbestos released during remediation activities
  • Infections due to exposure of wounds to contaminated water or the consumption of contaminated food crops, food products or water 

Stay Alert

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Prepare Your Home and Family

News & Events

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