Extreme Cold

Cold weather is common during winter in Waterloo Region. Exposure to cold temperatures can be hazardous to health and potentially life-threatening.

Anyone can be affected by extreme cold-related weather conditions. Risks are higher for:

  • Older adults (over the age of 65)
  • Infants and young children
  • Outdoor workers
  • People planning outdoor sports or activities
  • People with chronic illness
  • People experiencing homelessness and lacking shelter, warm clothing or food

What is wind chill?

Extreme cold weather conditions are expressed as a wind chill index.

The wind chill index combines both temperature and wind speed to reflect how cold it feels. The faster the wind, the lower the temperature feels.

Protect Yourself

You can protect yourself from the cold by:

  • Knowing the weather forecast before going outside
  • Planning ahead and modifying your plans according to the weather
  • Dressing warmly (for example, dressing in layers, wearing hats, mitts, scarf, etc.)
  • Seeking shelter out of the wind and cold
  • Staying dry
  • Keeping active to generate body heat
  • Knowing the signs and symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia

Exposure to extreme cold can cause frostbite and hypothermia.

Frequently visit vulnerable neighbours, friends and older family members, especially those who are chronically ill, to make sure they are safe during Extreme Cold Warnings.

Hypothermia and Frostbite

Hypothermia is a medical emergency. Call 911 immediately if you are caring for someone who has been exposed to cold temperatures and has a low body temperature (less than 35° C), is unconscious, shivering, confused, drowsy or unsteady.

While waiting for help, warm the person by:

  • Moving them to a warm place
  • Removing any wet clothing
  • Using warm blankets, towels, wrapped hot water bottles or heating pads, or skin-to-skin contact
  • Providing warm drinks if they are awake

Frostbite is the condition when skin freezes. In cold temperatures, skin that isn't properly covered or protected can freeze quickly. Frostbite generally occurs in:

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Nose
  • Ears

Mild frostbite, frostnip, makes your skin look yellowish or white but is still soft to the touch. Normal colour returns once the area is warmed.

Severe frostbite can permanently damage tissue if it is not treated immediately.

Extreme Cold Warnings

Environment and Climate Change Canada will issue an Extreme Cold Warning for Waterloo Region when the temperature or wind chill is expected to reach minus 30° C for at least two hours.

At this temperature, exposed skin can freeze in 10 to 30 minutes. Exposure to these temperatures and wind chill may result in frostbite or hypothermia. When an Extreme Cold Warning is issued for Waterloo Region, Public Health coordinates a community response and Warming Centres are opened.

Warming Spaces

Warming Spaces are buildings that are open to the public and welcome anyone inside during regular business hours to warm up during extreme cold warnings.

They include government buildings, libraries, community centres and other recreational facilities.

For more information visit the Warming, Cooling and Clean Air Spaces page.

Winter Emergency Preparedness

Emergencies can happen at any time. Be prepared for winter with an emergency kit - it could save your life. Remember to plan ahead and listen to the weather forecast.

Find out what to include in an:

Visit Alert Waterloo Region for more information on emergency preparedness.

Waterloo Region Heat, Cold and Air Quality Network

The Waterloo Region Heat, Cold and Air Quality Network, coordinated by Region of Waterloo Public Health, is a collection of local partners that work together to reduce health risks associated with extreme heat, cold and poor air quality. This network includes representatives who run the Warming, Cooling and Clean Air Spaces in Waterloo Region as well as partners who have front-line contact with vulnerable populations.

For more information, or to be added to the partnership, please contact Region of Waterloo Public Health at ExtremeHeatCold@regionofwaterloo.ca.

How to receive weather alerts from Environment and Climate Change Canada

Additional Resources

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