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Extreme Cold

Extreme cold happens when temperatures drop below the average for that time of year. Exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious and sometimes even life-threatening health problems, such as frostbite and hypothermia.

Who is at risk?

While anyone who isn’t dressed warmly is at risk in cold weather conditions, some are at greater risk than others for health effects of extreme cold:

  • infants (under one)
  • seniors (65 or older)
  • homeless people
  • outdoor workers
  • winter sports enthusiasts
  • people living in poorly insulated homes
  • people living in homes without power
  • people with certain medical conditions or taking certain medications

What are the health effects of extreme cold?

Frostbite is when skin and tissues freeze and are damaged.

Frostbite usually affects the hands, feet, nose and ears

  • Skin will first become red and swollen and may sting or burn
  • If the skin freezes, the area will have no feeling and will be shiny and white.
  • If you think frostbite has set in, don’t rub or massage the area. Instead, warm up the area slowly with warm compresses or your own body.

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s normal temperature becomes too low. Symptoms may include:

  • shivering
  • confusion
  • weakness
  • low energy
  • pale skin colour

If you think someone has hypothermia, remove wet clothing and bring them to a warm place. Warm the person gradually with several layers of blankets.

If you or someone you know experiences any symptoms concerning for hypothermia or frostbite, seek medical attention immediately.

Reduce your risk!

Protect yourself from extreme cold conditions by following these tips:

  • Cover exposed skin, which can become frostbitten in 30 seconds.
  • Wear warm socks, gloves, a hat and scarf in cold weather.
  • Drink warm fluids, avoiding caffeinated or alcoholised beverages.
  • Dress in layers with a wind resistant outer layer.
  • Find shelter from the wind to reduce wind exposure.
  • Listen to the weather forecast and plan ahead! If there is an extreme cold or wind chill warning, do what you can to stay inside.

For the most up-to-date weather information, check out Environment Canada’s website at or follow them on Twitter.