BLOG: Stay Safe This Weekend in the Coldest Weather of the Season

By: Sophie Stone, Deputy Press Secretary

February 12, 2016

This President’s Day weekend, state officials are expecting the coldest weather of the season so far. Cold temperatures combined with strong winds will create wind chills at or below zero on Friday and Saturday nights.

The Pennsylvania Departments of Health, Aging, and Human Services, as well as the PA Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and the Office of the State Fire Commissioner, are urging all Pennsylvanians to take extra precautions in the coming days to prevent serious health issues in the cold.

How can I prevent cold-related health problems?

Life-threatening health problems can occur in just 30 minutes or less if skin is exposed to hazardous temperatures like those expected this weekend. Lower than normal temperatures and higher wind speeds, such as those we’re expecting this weekend, can cause heat to leave the body more quickly than normal and result in severe health issues.

Stay inside when possible, as the most common cold-related problems are hypothermia and frostbite. Know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite (PDF), and seek medical attention if it is suspected that you or your loved ones have hypothermia or frostbite. If you must go outside, make outdoor trips brief. Dress warmly in layers, and cover your ears, head, mouth, and face. Never ignore shivering – it’s your body’s way of saying you’re losing heat and it’s time to return indoors.

How can I help my loved ones and neighbors?

Infants and older Pennsylvanians are at greater risk of serious cold-related health issues and should be checked frequently to ensure they are warm enough during cold weather.

Provide warm clothing for infants, and ensure that those less than 1 year old never sleep in a cold room, as they lose body heat more easily than adults and are unable to make enough body heat by shivering.

Older adults also often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. During this arctic blast, a quick check-in with your elderly family members and neighbors can make big difference and may even save a life.

How can I heat my home safely?

House fires are common in the winter, so Pennsylvanians should be extra vigilant in ensuring that any action they take doesn’t put them and their loved ones at risk.

In addition, carbon monoxide is another threat that claims lives every year, even though prevention is fairly simple. It is important to test carbon monoxide detectors regularly to ensure proper protection. Often called “the silent killer,” it is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can incapacitate victims before they’re aware they’ve been exposed.

To prevent carbon monoxide build-up, folks should never try to heat their home using a generator, stove, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside their home, basement, garage or near a window. Carbon monoxide is created when combustible materials burn incompletely and can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often mistaken for the flu and include nausea, headaches, dizziness, disorientation and fatigue. If you suspect you’ve been exposed to carbon monoxide, leave the building immediately and call 9-1-1 or seek medical attention.

How is the state helping?

PEMA is working with county and local partners as well as charity organizations to identify vulnerable populations and unmet needs to provide any necessary assistance as early as possible.

In addition, DHS is reminding Pennsylvanian renters and homeowners who are financially eligible to request crisis or regular Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grants to help pay energy bills. These grants are available through April 1, 2016. LIHEAP offers assistance in the form of a cash grant sent directly to the utility company or a crisis grant for households in immediate danger of being without heat. Cash grants are based on household income, family size, type of heating fuel and region. LIHEAP also provides funds to repair heating equipment.

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