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Are you ready for your first Canadian winter?

When people hear how cold it can get in Canada in winter – Ottawa was declared the world’s coldest capital in January – they go brrr! 

But stories of how “it hurt to breathe” or how someone got frost bite within minutes of exposure to the cold are, at the end of the day, just that, stories. They don’t really prepare one for just how cold it can really get. 

Then when they hear of polar dips in which people jump into frigid lakes, they could be forgiven for thinking how cold can it really be. 

Seriously cold, is the short answer. Newcomers are advised to respect the weather and dress accordingly. The Weather Network is a reliable source of information. 

Based on information from Environment Canada, the Medical Officer of Health of a province can issue an Extreme Cold Weather Alert. In Ontario, Extreme Cold Weather Alerts are issued when the temperature in the daily forecast is estimated to reach approximately -15 degrees Celsius or colder, or when the wind chill is forecast to reach -20 or colder. 

Exposure to cold weather can be harmful to your health. Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 35 degrees Celsius and can have severe consequences, including organ failure and death. Frostbite can also occur in cold weather when skin freezes and, in severe cases, can lead to amputation when deeper tissues freeze. 

Those most at risk of cold-related illness are people experiencing homelessness or those under-housed, those who work outdoors, people with a pre-existing heart condition or respiratory illness, elderly people, infants and young children. People with heart problems can experience worsening of their condition up to several days after cold weather occurs. 

Extreme Cold Weather Alerts activate local services that focus on getting and keeping vulnerable residents inside. Warming centres are opened the day an alert is called, and remain open continuously until noon on the day an alert is terminated. Other services include notification to community agencies to relax any service restrictions, availability of transit tokens in some drop-ins, and additional overnight street outreach. 

During an Extreme Cold Weather Alert, people are encouraged to take the following precautions: 

• Check the weather report before going outside. 

• Dress in layers, making sure your outer layer is windproof, and cover exposed skin. 

• Wear a hat, warm mittens or gloves, and warm boots. 

• Stay dry. Your risk of hypothermia is much greater if you are wet. 

• Choose wool or synthetic fabrics for your clothes instead of cotton, because cotton absorbs and holds moisture, no longer keeping the wearer warm. 

• Seek shelter if you normally spend long periods outside. Depending on the wind chill, exposed skin can freeze in minutes. 

• Drink warm fluids other than alcohol. 

• Warm up by taking regular breaks in heated buildings when enjoying winter activities outside. 

• Consider rescheduling outdoor activities, or limiting time outdoors, during colder temperatures, especially if it’s windy. 

• Heat your home to at least 21 degrees Celsius if infants or elderly people are present. 

• Call or visit vulnerable friends, neighbours and family to ensure they are okay. 

More tips for staying warm are available at toronto.ca/community-people/health-wellness-care/health-programs-advice/extreme-cold-weather. 

Posted: Feb 2, 2019

January 2020

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

© CanadaBound Immigrant 2016