Extreme Cold

B.C.’s changing climate means more unpredictable weather events, including winter storms and extreme cold temperatures. These weather events can create life-threatening situations. Rapidly changing conditions make winter storms hard to predict, and cold temperatures can rapidly become hazardous. In general, your risk of health effects like windburn and frostbite increase at wind chill values below -27. The wind can make cold temperatures feel even colder. The wind chill index measures what the temperature feels like on exposed skin based on the speed of the wind. A wind chill can cause your body to lose heat faster and your skin to freeze very quickly. To learn more, please visit: https://climatereadybc.gov.bc.ca/pages/extreme-cold-winter-storms


Health issues related to extreme weather events remain a public health issue and the response is led by local health authorities and the Province of British Columbia.


Who is at risk?

While anyone who is not dressed warmly is at risk in cold weather conditions, some are at greater risk than others for frost bite and hypothermia:

  • Individuals experiencing homelessness
  • outdoor workers
  • people living in homes that are poorly insulated (with no heat or no power)
  • people with certain medical conditions such as diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and diseases affecting the blood vessels
  • people taking certain medications including beta-blockers
  • winter sport enthusiasts
  • infants (under 1 year)
  • seniors (65 years or older

Be sure to check in on vulnerable family members and community members and those who may live alone.

Reduce your risk

Protect yourself from extreme cold conditions by following these tips:

Wear appropriate clothing

  • Always wear clothing appropriate for the weather. Synthetic and wool fabrics provide better insulation. Some synthetic fabrics are designed to keep perspiration away from your body which keep you dry and further reduce your risk.
  • Dress in layers with a wind resistant outer layer. You can remove layers if you get too warm (before you start sweating) or add a layer if you get cold.
  • Wear warm socks, gloves, a hat and scarf in cold weather. Be sure to put a scarf over your nose to protect it.
  • If you get wet, change into dry clothing as soon as possible. You lose heat faster when you’re wet.

Protect yourself

  • On sunny days wear sun glasses, lip balm and sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays and keep it moisturized to help prevent windburn.
  • Wear a face mask and goggles if you are participating in winter activities such as skiing, snowmobiling and skating to protect your face from frostbite and windburn.
  • Keep moving (especially your hands and feet) to keep your blood flowing and maintain your body heat.

Know the weather conditions

  • Pay attention to weather alerts in your area. Special weather statements and warnings are issued when extreme weather is possible in your area.
  • Environment Canada issues wind chill alerts to warn you of conditions that will cause frostbite to exposed skin.

Find shelter and keep moving

  • If you are caught in a severe snowstorm, or outside in extreme cold conditions, look for shelter. If there are no buildings around, a small cave, ditch, hollow tree or a vehicle can help reduce your chances of frostbite or hypothermia.
  • Even if you find shelter, keep moving to maintain your body heat.

Winterize your home

  • Prepare your home for cold winter temperatures by doing regular maintenance. Make sure your heating system is working efficiently and seal all cracks and drafts to keep the heat in.

Avoid alcohol

  • Consuming alcohol before you go out in the cold may increase your risk of hypothermia because it increases blood flow to the extremities of the body. You may actually feel warm even though you are losing heat.

Protect pets

  • Watch for the salt or sand used on sidewalks, which can get between your dog’s paw pads or toes. Salt and sand irritate the skin and can result in sore paws and dermatitis if not wiped off. Dogs may have fur coats, but some aren’t very thick. They get cold and can suffer from exposure, just like humans. Cats and dogs are particularly vulnerable to frostbite on the tips of their ears, tails and paws, so in extreme cold, animals should only be outside for very short periods of time. Visit the BCSPCA website to learn more.
    • Paw pads: Keep your dog from licking their feet after a walk. Dry their feet after being outside and clean between their toes and pads.
    • Sidewalks: For your own sidewalk, choose a pet-friendly, non-corrosive de-icing compound readily available through retail outlets. Walking slowly and carefully when conditions are icy or slippery is important because, like humans, your canine companions can slip and injure themselves.
    • Stay inside: Consider fun indoor activities if it’s too cold to be outdoors with your dog.
    • Antifreeze alert: Most antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is toxic to  wildlife and pets. A mere tablespoon can kill a cat or small dog! Use propylene glycol-based antifreeze instead. It’s animal-friendly, anti-corrosive, biodegradable and recyclable. Learn more about antifreeze safety.

Know your health risks

  • Talk to your health care professional to see if you are at an increased risk from extreme cold due to a medical condition.
  • If you have health problems such as a heart condition you may wish to avoid strenuous activities like shovelling snow.

For more information

For more information on winter weather and what you can do to protect yourself from extreme cold, visit the following websites: