When the Weather Outside is Frightful

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Be Prepared

It is understandable if in all the hubbub of the holidays you didn’t notice the season changed. The official start of winter was December 21. But for people living in many parts of the country it’s felt like winter since before Thanksgiving.

Bundle up because winter is here to stay—at least until March, regardless of whatever Pennsylvania’s famous groundhog says on February 2. Here are five (5) ways to prepare your health for winter weather.

  1. Take inventory of your personal needs; in other words, the ‘stuff’ your family needs to maintain and protect their health in an emergency. At the top of that list is enough nonperishable food, safe water, prescription medications, and basic supplies to last at least three days. Beyond that, creating an emergency supply kit is all about customizing its contents to the unique personal health and healthcare needs of your family, which includes pets. Now is also a good time to check that you’ve got the right supplies in your vehicle(s) in case of a roadside emergency or worse—you get stranded in a winter storm. Winterize your ride with the following items:
    1. Food
    2. Water
    3. First aid kit
    4. Flashlight with extra batteries
    5. Emergency hammer and seat belt cutter
    6. Jumper cables or a jump starter
    7. Warm clothes and a blanket(s) or sleeping bag
    8. Ice scraper and shovel
    9. Road flares
    10. Backup power sources, such as a phone charger and power bank
  2. Reach out. Check on your neighbors, especially, those who are elderly; live alone or with a chronic health condition; or rely on electric-powered medical equipment. Make a house call to ask if they have enough supplies, to check that the home is adequately heated, and to look and listen for the warning signs of hypothermia. Older adults who don’t have enough food, clothing, or warmth are at high risk for hypothermia.
  3. Power up. Heavy snow and ice accumulation can cause trees to fall and damage power lines. Extended power outages in winter can be life threatening. Fully charge your electronic devices, medical equipment, and back-up batteries if you know a disaster is coming. It’s important also to have an emergency power plan for keeping medicines cold and medical devices running.
  4. Level up. Learn practical skills and lessons that you can use to protect your family’s health and help others until help arrives in a disaster or medical emergency. Cold weather—especially when the mercury drops to near or below freezing–forces the heart to work harder to keep the body warm. The combination of cold temperatures and strenuous exercise, such as shoveling snow, can trigger a heart attack. A person having a heart attack does not need CPR—but they do need to get to the hospital right away. Learn to identify the five major signs and symptoms of a heart attack in yourself and others. If you notice the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. A person’s chances of surviving a heart attack are greater the sooner they can get into an emergency room and receive treatment.
  5. Layer on the clothes when going out into cold temperatures. Leave no skin exposed when going outside. Wear a hat, a scarf or knit mask to cover your face and mouth, long sleeves that are snug at the wrist, mittens (they are warmer than gloves), a water-resistant coat and boots, and several layers of loose-fitting clothing. Your body can lose heat even when you’re properly dressed; so, it’s best to limit your time outdoors. Prolonged exposure can lead to cold-related health problems like hypothermia and frostbite.

Help spread the word this winter and be sure to create community, plan ahead, and practice personal health preparedness. Being prepared to be ready is key!


Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

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2 comments on “When the Weather Outside is Frightful”

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    This article should also inform the reader about the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter months and measures that should be taken to avoid being carbon monoxide poisoning (e.g. never idling cars inside garages; not using generators, charcoal, or propane heaters indoors).

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Page last reviewed: May 20, 2020
Page last updated: May 20, 2020