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:
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.