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Cold Weather Preparedness

Extreme Cold Safety Tips


What Is Extreme Cold?

Extreme cold is generally defined as a prolonged period of excessively cold weather. Extreme cold conditions are often, but not always, part of winter storms.


Why Prepare?

Winter in Massachusetts almost always includes periods of extreme cold weather. Exposure to cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia and has the potential to become life-threatening. Although anyone can suffer from cold-related health issues, some people are at greater risk than others, such as older adults, young children, those who are sick, and those without adequate shelter. To reduce the risks of extreme cold conditions, take the proper safety precautions to protect yourself and your family.

Wind added to cold temperatures can multiply the problems that occur with cold weather.,  Wind chill is a term commonly used by meteorologists in the colder months of the year. But, when you see a wind chill of minus 20 degrees in your forecast, do you know what that truly means?

You may also hear forecasters refer to this as the "feels-like" temperature because, essentially, the wind chill is how cold it actually feels on your skin when the wind is factored in.  Even with temperatures in the 20's (F) wind can make it "feel like" near zero or below zero and cause your body to cool at a faster rate, leading more quickly to hypothermia and frostbite.

This is because the wind strips away the thin layer of warm air above your skin. The stronger the wind, the more heat lost from your body, and the colder it will feel. When the winds are light, it will feel closer to the actual air temperature.

The website provides some common sense approaches in preparing for cold weather for students at


Before Extreme Cold Weather

  • Be informed by receiving alerts, warnings, and public safety information before, during, and after emergencies.
  • Create and review your family emergency plan and assemble an emergency kit.  Add seasonal supplies to your emergency kit such as extra winter clothing and blankets.  Visit Ready.Gov at for more details and ideas on what to incorporate into your emergency plan and emergency kit.
  • Prepare your home and your vehicle for possible emergencies.
    • Know where your electricity, gas, and water switches and valves are located and how to shut them off. You may need to turn off water pipes if your pipes freeze or burst.
    • Ensure that heating equipment and chimneys are well maintained and inspected. 
    • Check that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and have fresh batteries.
  • Ensure your vehicle is ready for safe winter driving.
    • Keep your gas tank at least half-full to prevent your fuel line from freezing.
    • Install good winter tires with adequate tread and pressure.
    • Check your antifreeze, battery, defroster, windshield wipers, wiper fluid, and other vehicle equipment to make sure they are ready for winter driving.
    • Have a Winter Emergency Car Kit in the trunk.


During Extreme Cold Weather

  • Continue to monitor the media for emergency information and follow instructions from public safety officials.
  • Minimize outdoor activities for the whole family, including pets.
  • Dress in several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing instead of a single heavy layer. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear a hat, mittens (not gloves), and sturdy waterproof boots to protect your extremities. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Take recommended safety precautions when using space heaters, a fireplace, or a woodstove to heat your home. Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Make sure emergency generators or secondary heating systems are well ventilated.
  • In the event of a power outage you may need to take additional precautions or go to an emergency shelter to stay warm.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions, and those who may need additional assistance.


Ice Safety Tips

As the lakes, ponds, streams, and rivers, throughout Massachusetts, freeze during winter months, residents may be eager to start skating, playing hockey, ice fishing, and enjoying other winter activities. However, frozen bodies of water can be dangerous.

Generally, ice that forms on moving water (rivers, streams, and brooks) is never safe. Ice freezes and thaws at different rates and the thickness of ice on ponds and lakes can vary depending on water currents, springs, depth, and natural objects such as tree stumps or rocks. It can be a foot thick in one area and just inches thick a few feet away. Daily changes in temperature also affect its strength. Because of these factors, no one can declare the ice to be absolutely safe. The only “safe” ice is at a skating arena.


Cold-related Illnesses

Extreme cold can cause cold-related illness, including:


Frostbite is the freezing of the skin and body tissue.

  • Symptoms — Loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, earlobes, face, and the tip of the nose.
  • Treatment — Get the victim into a warm location. Cover exposed skin, but do not rub the affected area. Seek medical attention immediately.


Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature and is life-threatening.

  • Symptoms — Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, and slurred speech.
  • Treatment — If symptoms of hypothermia are detected take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95°, seek medical attention immediately. Get the victim to a warm location. Remove wet clothing. Warm the center of the body first by wrapping the person in blankets or putting on dry clothing. Give them warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the person is conscious.


Download this Hypothermia Fact Sheet made available through the Centers for Disease Control