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Cold weather in Ottawa

Weather alert

Frostbite advisory is over

Frostbite

The months of December, January and February are the coldest months of the Ottawa winter and it's difficult to avoid the cold weather. Frostbite is defined as damage of the skin from exposure to cold weather. City of Ottawa Paramedics remind everyone that cold that extremely cold weather can lead to serious complications, the worst being amputation. Injuries from frostbite are extremely common yet extremely preventable.

Frostbite mostly affects areas where the circulation is poor. Since cold weather will cause the body to take preventive measures by constricting (making smaller) the blood vessel, this opens the door to frostbite injuries.

Look for the 4 "P"s of frostbite.

  1. Pink - affected areas will be reddish in colour. This is the first sign of frostbite
  2. Pain - affected areas will become painful
  3. Patches - white, waxy feeling patches show up - skin is dying
  4. Pricklies - the areas will then feel numb

Tips to prevent frostbite.

  • Get to a warm area before frostbite sets in. If it's too cold outside, consider staying indoors.
  • Keep extra mittens and gloves in the car, house or school bag.
  • Wear larger sized mittens over your gloves.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Wear a scarf to protect the chin, lips and cheeks. They are all extremely susceptible to frostbite.
  • Wear two pairs of socks - wool if possible
  • Keep feet warm and dry
  • Make sure you are able to wiggle your toes in your boots. This air space around your toes acts as insulation.
  • Buy boots that are rated for -25 or -30C.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol narrows blood vessels, which promotes frostbite and then hypothermia.

Should frostbite set-in...

  • Do not rub or massage affected areas. It may cause more damage.
  • NOT HOT - warm up the area slowly. Use a warm compresses or your own body heat to re-warm the area. Underarms are a good place.
  • If toes or feet are frostbitten, try not to walk on them.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you see white or grey coloured patches or if the area is numb.

Always be on the lookout for the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. In case of serious cold weather injury, City of Ottawa Paramedics urges you to seek immediate medical attention.

Hypothermia

Whenever the body's normal temperature becomes too low, hypothermia (hypo=low and thermia=temperature) occurs and will starve the brain of much needed oxygen. During the hot or cold weather months City of Ottawa Paramedics remind you that finding warmth can be the key to survival. Hypothermia can occur even during the hot days of July. Swimming in cold water for a long period of time can induce hypothermia even in the hottest months of the year.

Who is at Risk?

There are five groups that are most susceptible to hypothermia.

  • The elderly - with inadequate clothing, food (food sustains normal body temperature) or heat
  • Babies - sleeping in cold rooms or inappropriate clothing for the outdoors
  • Homeless - lack of shelter, proper clothing and food
  • Sport Enthusiasts - hikers, skiers
  • Workers - people who work outdoors

Signs of Hypothermia

Look for the "UMBLES" from people affected by cold temperatures;

  • a person who mumbles
  • a person who stumbles
  • a person who fumbles objects

For infants look for cold reddish skin and low energy - always have a thermometer at home.

Tips to prevent Hypothermia

  • Wear clothes in layers
    • inner Layer (closest to the skin) - should have "wicking" properties to move any moisture away from the skin
    • middle Layer - should be the insulating layer to prevent loss of your body heat while keeping the cold outside air away
    • outer Layer - should be the "windbreaking" layer toreduce the chances of cold air reaching the insulating layer
       
  • Drink warm fluids, but no alcohol. Alcohol promotes other cold weather injuries.
     
  • If you start to sweat, cool off a little. Wet clothes will also encourage other cold weather injuries.
     
  • Wear a hat - up to 40 per cent of body heat loss can occur through the head.
     
  • Wear gloves or mittens or both!
     
  • Wear a scarf to protect the chin, lips and cheeks - all are extremely susceptible to cold weather injuries.
     
  • When going on a trip leave the itinerary with a responsible person.
     
  • If hiking use a map and hand-held Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) device.

What to do in case of Hypothermia

  • Remove wet clothing that promotes hypothermia.
     
  • Get to a warm place as soon as possible. Use several layers of blankets heated in your home dryer if possible.
     
  • If the person is alert, give warm beverages. Never give alcoholic beverages.
     
  • Seek immediate medical attention.

Always be on the lookout for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. In case of serious cold weather injury, City of Ottawa Paramedics urge you to seek immediate medical attention.

Cold weather Resource Kit

The Cold Weather Resource Kit is designed to inform service providers and the general public about cold-related risks and provide a coordinated response to extreme cold weather. The City of Ottawa’s Public Health Branch, Housing Branch, and the Ottawa Paramedic Service are working with The Salvation Army, the Red Cross and emergency shelter services to raise awareness, identify people in need of assistance, and ensure emergency shelter space is always available to them.

Please use these materials as needed with your clientele or as a resource, particularly as the temperatures drops below –15C. When a wind chill of –25 or colder is forecast, a Frostbite Alert is declared by the Medical Officer of Health. A Frostbite Warning is in effect when a wind chill of –35 or colder is forecast.

Information on preventing cold weather illness and injury provided by the Ottawa Paramedic Service:
Cold Weather Tips

Frostbite

Hypothermia

Winter Driving Safety

If you would like a copy of the Kit please contact: Martha Robinson at 613-580-6744, ext. 23658.

Through this initiative, we can all play a role to make sure that residents of Ottawa are kept safe and warm during the winter months. Thank you and stay safe this winter!

Cover Letter from Dr. Isra Levy, Medical Officer of Health and Anthony Di Monte, Chief, Paramedic Service

Dear Service Providers and Community Partners,

Enclosed, please find a Cold Weather Resource Kit for your information. This information package is part of a coordinated initiative to prevent cold-related injuries and deaths through increased awareness and education involving many local service providers, community agencies, Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the City of Ottawa.

The kit is designed to inform service providers and the general public about cold-related risks and provide a coordinated response to extreme cold weather situations.  OPH and Paramedic Service as well as other City departments such as Community and Social Services, Parks, Recreation and Culture and Human Resources are working with the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and emergency shelter services to raise awareness, identify people in need of assistance, and ensure emergency shelter space is always available when needed.

At certain temperature thresholds, the risks of frostbite and other cold weather injuries and illnesses increase. A Frostbite Advisory is in effect when a wind chill of -25 or colder is forecasted. Key service providers including homeless shelters, outreach workers and community resource centres are encouraged to monitor the weather and use cold weather precautions to ensure the safety of individuals. Service providers may take direct action or, in the case of a homeless person, may call the "Help for the Homeless" phone line at 613-580-2626 or 3-1-1. The City’s call centre answers calls on a priority basis and referrals are made to appropriate, available services.

A Frostbite Warning is in effect when a wind chill of -35 or colder is forecasted.  A Public Service Announcement and Social Media messaging will be released to remind Ottawa residents about the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia.  In addition, key service providers will be warned about the increased risk to the homeless and other at-risk groups. 

In Canada, more than 80 people die each year from over-exposure to the cold. Homeless people, infants, the elderly, and newcomers to Canada are particularly vulnerable to frostbite and hypothermia. 

Through this initiative, we can all help to ensure that vulnerable populations are kept safe and warm during the winter months.

Thank you and stay safe this winter! 

Dr. Isra Levy
Medical Officer of Health
Ottawa Public Health

Anthony Di Monte
Chief, Ottawa Paramedic Service

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Safe shovelling can prevent fatalities

Shovelling snow counts as a moderate level of physical activity, but it also contributes to the increasing number of fatalities for those of us in our middle ages. If you are over 40, overweight and have associated risk factors such as diabetes, heart problems or hypertension talk to your health care provider before undertaking shovelling.

Warm up before they begin shovelling

The sudden demand placed on the heart by snow shovelling is stressful for it. Within two minutes of heavy shovelling, our heart rate and blood pressure levels can be as high as those reached during normal exercise. Pacing yourself instead can prevent a lot of heartache in the end.

Some safe shovelling tips

  • Extreme weather makes it harder to breath and puts more strain on the heart. Taking it slow can help prevent this.
  • Hypothermia and frostbite - Remember to dress in layers and keep your head and ears covered.
  • Avoid eating, smoking and caffeine before beginning.
  • Use a small shovel to lift less snow and put less strain on the heart.
  • Avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of water.
  • Shovel when snow is new, not ice laden or too wet.
  • Push snow to the side of the driveway.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Avoid twisting movements.
  • Stop if you feel any pain or tightness, especially in the arms or chest.
  • Bend from the knees and keep the shovel close to your body as you lift.

Even those of us in top physical condition can experience back injury from the heavy exertion caused by lifting snow.

A snow blower can help, but using it improperly can cause serious injuries. Be familiar with how yours works and make sure it is in good working condition before putting it into action.

Hiring a service, moving to a condo or travelling to a warmer climate are other possible options. But for most of us, being winter smart will keep us healthy this winter season.

Cold weather

In Canada, more than 80 people die each year from over-exposure to the cold. 

Ottawa is one of the coldest capitals in the world. Winter temperature paired with wind can cause severe injuries and even death. Frostbite injuries can lead to amputations. Hypothermia, the most serious of cold weather complications can lead to brain damage and then death. At –15 C, hypothermia becomes an increasing concern and when the wind chill reaches –35 or colder, exposed skin can freeze in as little as 10 minutes. Most susceptible to these cold weather problems are the elderly, children, infants, the homeless, newcomers to Canada, outdoor workers and sport enthusiasts. City of Ottawa would like to offer a few tips to prevent the cold weather in becoming a life-threatening event.

  • Wear a hat, gloves or mittens to prevent heat loss and protect ears and fingers from frostbite.
  • Wear a scarf to protect the chin, lips and cheeks - all are extremely susceptible to cold weather injuries.
  • Drink warm fluids, but no alcohol. Alcohol promotes other cold weather injuries.
  • If you start to sweat, cool off a little. Wet clothes will also encourage other cold weather injuries.
  • Wear clothes in layers
    • Inner Layer (closest to the skin) - should have "wicking" properties to move any moisture away from the skin
    • Middle Layer - should be the insulating layer to prevent loss of your body heat while keeping the cold outside air away
    • Outer Layer - should be the "windbreaking" layer to reduce the chances of cold air reaching the insulating layer

Always be on the lookout for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. In case of serious cold weather injury, City of Ottawa Paramedics urge you to seek immediate medical attention.

Extreme cold weather assistance to homeless persons

The City of Ottawa has developed a plan to respond to the needs associated with extreme cold weather conditions for people who are homeless and or at risk of becoming homeless. The response is organized in partnership with a network of community agencies and groups that provide relevant services.

Purpose

The Extreme Cold-Weather Initiative is a preventive mechanism to deal with hazardous situations for homeless individuals stranded in extreme cold weather conditions. The following resources are available to respond to this need.

The City’s Call Line: 3-1-1 or 613-580-2626

The City’s Call Line is available to respond to calls 24 hours a day. Calls are answered by the City of Ottawa Call Centre on a priority basis and referred to appropriate service providers.

Salvation Army Outreach Van

The Salvation Army operates a Mobile Outreach Van and responds to calls made to the City’s Call Line.

The van travels a route in the inner city seven days a week, from late afternoon to early hours of the morning and extended hours on the week-end.

City of Ottawa emergency housing

  • Family Shelters, Tel: 3-1-1 (24 hours)

Emergency Shelters

The following shelters have regular emergency programs and will respond to calls as per their respective policies and procedures.

  • Cornerstone: 172 O'Connor Street
    Women’s shelter
    Tel: 613-237-4669 (24 hrs), Fax: 613-237-5659
  • Salvation Army: 171 George St.
    Men’s Shelter
    Tel: 613-241-1573; Fax: 613-241-2818
  • Shepherds of Good Hope: 233 Murray St.
    Men’s Shelter; Women’s Shelter
    Tel: 613-789-8210; Fax: 613-789-0888
  • The Mission: 35 Waller St.
    Men’s Shelter
    Tel: 613- 234-1144, Fax: 613-234-2813
  • Youth Services Bureau:
    Young Women’s Shelter
    Tel: 613-789-8220, Fax: 613-789-9585
    Young Men’s Shelter
    Tel: 613-907-8975, Fax: 613-907-8976