Although we experience a milder climate in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, it’s important to take proper precautions in wet, windy, low- visibility or very cold conditions.
Learn more about how to prepare for emergencies, winterize your home, stay warm and dry, and avoid injuries while getting around this winter.
Some winters bring more intense weather than others. Make sure you and your loved ones have emergency kits with water, lights and food in case of prolonged power outages. Be sure to have plans in place and ways to check on friends, family and neighbours – especially those who are seniors or who live alone.
Have ample stocks of any medications you or your loved ones may need. Visit the Government of B.C.’s getting prepared for severe weather page for resources to help you prepare.
For people who use power-operated medical equipment:
- If you use medical equipment that needs power (such as home oxygen, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, ventilator, nebulizer, etc.), have a plan to keep your device working during a power outage. The US Food and Drug Administration has a booklet for preparing and handling power outages for home medical device users.
- Check the instructions or with the product manufacturer to make sure the backup power source will work for your device. Let your power company and emergency responders know you are using a medical device that needs power. Talk to your neighbors who may have a generator and ask them to check in on you during a severe weather event.
Keeping your home safe
During the winter, heating bills can increase and be difficult to pay. If you are having difficulty, check if your city or town has a rent bank (Surrey/Langley/White Rock/Delta, New Westminster/Burnaby/Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge and Tri-Cities).
If this is not an option, you could also look into the BC Hydro Crisis Fund.
If your home is drafty, visit BC Hydro’s winter home heating tips and be sure to investigate government subsidy programs including:
- Better Homes B.C.
- CleanBC Income Qualified Program
- Empower Me, an energy conservation and education change program designed for and delivered by members of diverse, multilingual, and hard to reach communities
Very cold and windy weather can impact the health and strength of trees around your home and neighbourhood, which can pose a hazard to your health and home. As the weather turns colder, make sure you or your landlord contacts a professional arborist or your local government to assess the health of your trees. As more extreme weather can impact different species in different ways, it may also be helpful to ask whether your trees are resilient to a changing climate and how to best care for them. You may also wish to contact your local government if you are worried about any trees in the community that seem unhealthy or unsafe.
Carbon monoxide (CO)
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs most often in the winter. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas made when fuel burns, including wood, gasoline, coal, natural gas or kerosene. Higher indoor levels of carbon monoxide are usually due to malfunctioning appliances. Breathing in carbon monoxide fumes prevents the body from using oxygen properly, which can harm the brain, heart and other organs. People with health problems, such as heart and lung disease, are at greater risk for harm. Infants, children, pregnant people and older adults are also at greater risk. Take these steps to help keep you and your home safe:
- Have your furnace and fireplace cleaned and checked annually.
- Only use fuel-burning heaters that are vented outside or are used in spaces that are well-ventilated with outdoor air. Electrical space heaters pose no danger of carbon monoxide poisoning, unlike those that burn fuels, such as kerosene.
- Do not start or leave cars, trucks or other vehicles running in an enclosed area, such as a garage, even with the outside door open.
- Do not use fuel-burning portable heaters or lanterns while sleeping in enclosed areas, such as tents, campers and other vehicles. This is even more important at high altitudes, where the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is increased.
- When using a gas-powered generator for electricity, be sure to keep it a safe distance away from the home.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home to warn you if carbon monoxide levels begin to rise.
- Ensure heating vents are kept clear of snow.
- If your home loses power due to a storm, do not use fuel-burning appliances indoors to warm your home; go to a warming centre instead.
Seek medical attention right away if you think you or a member of your family has carbon monoxide poisoning. Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
- Dull headache
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be particularly dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. For more information on indoor air quality, please see our air quality page.
B.C. is seeing an increase in rainfall and flooding events. Please be sure to make sure all your drains are clear of leaves and debris and have a plan for what to do if flooding occurs in your area.
- Emergency Management BC Flood Preparedness Guide (multiple languages)
- Flood planning, evacuation and after flooding recovery
- How to Protect Yourself in Flood Situations
- How to clean up after a flood (multiple languages)
- Landslide Information for Homeowners and Home Buyers
For a number of guides related to hazards to your home in the winter, visit the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction.
Monitor alerts and forecasts issued by Environment Canada.
For keeping up with extreme weather alerts:
- Follow Canada public weather alerts
- Download the WeatherCAN app to receive weather alert notifications in your area.
- Download the Avalanche app for access to the daily regional forecasts and avalanche advisories.
Exposure to the elements
Frostbite is damage to the skin from exposure to cold weather. It is extremely painful and can lead to complications, including amputation. Many people think that BC does not get cold enough for people to get frostbite in the winter, but we are seeing longer periods of dangerously cold weather than we are used to, and frostbite can happen at any temperature below zero degrees.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone is vulnerable when the temperature gets low, but some people are more at risk than others:
- Unhoused populations - those who lack shelter and/or proper clothing
- People who may be using drugs or alcohol, as it may impair judgement
- The elderly and the very young, as their bodies are less able to adapt to cold
- People with certain conditions, including diabetes and Raynaud’s phenomenon
- People taking medication that constricts blood vessels, such as beta-blockers
- Workers who work outside without proper equipment
- Sport enthusiasts such as hikers or skiers
Look for the 4 "P"s of frostbite
- Pink - affected areas will be reddish in colour. This is the first sign of frostbite
- Pain - affected areas will become painful
- Patches - white, waxy feeling patches show up where skin is dying
- Pricklies - these areas will then feel numb
Frostnip usually occurs before frostbite sets in. Frostnip starts with cold skin, prickling/burning feeling, slight numbness, and red skin. When it progresses to frostbite, the skin becomes completely numb, feels waxy and is very white, and can change colour after re-warming. There can be severe pain, swelling, and fever.
If you have vulnerable loved ones, or work with susceptible populations, always be on the lookout for signs of and hypothermia and frostbite. If you think someone might have frostbite, call 811 for advice; if the symptoms look more severe and/or you suspect hypothermia, seek immediate medical attention and call 9-1-1.
Tips to prevent frostbite
- Get to a warm area before frostbite sets in. If it is 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 that fully covers your ears
- Wear a neck warmer to protect the chin, lips and cheeks. They are all extremely susceptible to frostbite.
- Wear waterproof winter boots with room for an extra layer of socks. Wear two pairs of socks - wool if possible.
- Make sure you are able to wiggle your toes in your boots. This air space around your toes acts as insulation.
- Avoid drinking alcohol if you plan to be outside; it can cause the body to lose heat faster.
- Plan to protect yourself: carry emergency supplies and warm clothes and let others know your travel plans
Should frostbite set-in...
- Do not rub or massage affected areas. This may cause more damage.
- Do not apply heat. Instead, warm up the area slowly. Use a warm compresses or your own body heat to re-warm the area. Fingers can be placed in your underarms.
- If toes or feet are frostbitten, try not to walk on them.
- Frostnip can usually be treated with first aid, but frostbite requires medical attention. Seek immediate medical attention if you see white or grey coloured patches or if the area is numb or if there is increased pain, swelling, inflammation or discharge from affected area.
- Do not rewarm a frostbitten area if you can’t continue to keep it warm, as it can cause more damage if it re-freezes a second time.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia.
Download this information as a printable PDF.
Hypothermia happens when the body’s temperature gets so low that it is hard for oxygen to get to the brain. It doesn’t need to be below freezing to get hypothermia. People can become hypothermic from a short exposure to severe cold or longer exposure to mild to moderate temperatures. Wind-chill and rain makes the risk of hypothermia higher.
Who is at risk?
Anyone is vulnerable when the temperature gets low, but some people are more at risk:
- The elderly - especially those who may have poor quality housing, clothing and/ or food
- Unhoused populations - those who lack shelter, proper clothing and food
- Workers - people who work outdoors without proper equipment
- Sport enthusiasts – such as hikers or skiers
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
Also look for:
- Shivering (shivering may stop if body temperature falls below 32oC)
- Pale, cold, blue-grey skin
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Slow pulse
- Difficult to wake up
If you have vulnerable loved ones, or work with susceptible populations, always be on the lookout for signs of hypothermia and frostbite. In case of serious, moderate to severe hypothermia, seek immediate medical attention and call 9-1-1.
Tips to prevent hypothermia
- Wear clothes in layers or ensure those in your care do.
- 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
- Drink warm fluids and avoid drinking 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 neck warmer to protect the chin, lips and cheeks.
- When going on a trip, leave the itinerary with a contact person.
- If hiking, use a map and hand-held Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) device.
- It is advised to always have a thermometer at home.
What to do in case of hypothermia
- Get to a warm place as soon as possible.
- Monitor breathing.
- Remove wet clothing and dry the person gently.
- Warm them slowly with blankets.
- If the person is alert, give warm beverages. Never give alcoholic beverages.
- Seek immediate medical attention.
Staying warm and dry is key to remaining comfortable and safe when outdoors. Whether you are outside in the cold rain or in freezing temperatures, it’s important to be aware of the risks of hypothermia and exposure to cold temperatures.
Wear appropriate clothing to protect you from heat loss. In much of the Fraser Health region, this often means wearing rain gear to stay dry, and warm hats, scarves and gloves when temperatures drop. In very cold conditions, cover as much exposed skin as possible. Consider wearing layers so that you can stay warm without overheating. Wear flat shoes with good traction to avoid falling.
If you have gently used winter clothing you are not using, consider donating them to a local organization.
Winter in the Lower Mainland, where it is often cold, dark, or wet, presents some unique challenges for getting around safely.
If driving, make sure you and your vehicle are prepared for winter by following these tips:
- Slow down. Maintain more distance from other road users than you would under ideal conditions, and allow for extra time to reach your destination. Ensure you have enough space between your care, and the care ahead of you, to be able to comfortably stop in time.
- In bad weather, check the DriveBC.ca website for up-to-date information on road conditions.
- Clear your vehicle of all snow and ice before starting to move—it is required by law that you must remove snow and ice from all windows and mirrors, and the roof and hood of your vehicle.
- In low light and low visibility conditions, such as rain or fog, use your low-beam headlights, slow down and keep a special eye out for pedestrians and cyclists or for “unexpected” distractions, such as animals or debris on the road.
- Beware of standing water on the road which may cause your vehicle to hydroplane and lose control. Ensure your vehicle’s tires are in good condition with deep tread for safety.
- If walking or cycling:
- Wear warm and waterproof footwear that provides good grip.
- Wear reflective gear
- Watch for ice or slippery leaves that might cause a fall.
- Be extra vigilant for drivers that might not see you.
- When cycling avoid riding through puddles—they might hide damaged pavement or obstructions that could cause a crash.
- When cycling, use lights to ensure you can see and be seen.
When you have to shovel snow
When shoveling driveways and walkways, avoid injuries by following these safe snow shovelling tips:
- Wear warm clothes and layers so that you don’t overheat when working.
- Warm up your muscles before starting.
- Shovel many light loads instead of fewer heavy ones.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Don’t feel that you need to clear every flake of snow from your property; you may want to limit shoveling to what is legally required or needed for safety.
- If you are worried about your health or that of a loved one when shoveling snow, come up with a plan: talk to a neighbour, investigate if your city has a snow removal program, have a nearby loved one come by or hire a service.
People who have pre-existing heart conditions may experience worsening of their condition during snow shoveling. Head indoors right away if your chest starts hurting, you feel lightheaded or short of breath, your heart starts racing or you are having other concerning symptoms. If you think you are having a heart attack, call 9-1-1.
For more snow shovelling tips, visit the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s webpage about shovelling snow.