Across the country, communities have their own benchmarks for how cold it typically gets. Extreme cold is generally considered to be below freezing or at least ten degrees colder than usual. These temperatures put people at risk of hypothermia or frostbite, which can occasionally lead to death. While climate change brings more extreme fluctuations in weather, there are steps you can take to prepare.

Preparing for extreme cold:

  • Weatherproof your home.
    • Insulate water lines that run along outdoor walls to keep them from freezing.
    • Caulk and weather-strip windows and doors.
    • Install storm or thermal-pane windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
    • Insulate the walls and attic. 
    • Repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on your home during a storm.
  • Prepare for power outages and have extra heat sources available in case power is lost.
  • Create an emergency car kit in case a winter storm begins while you are on the road.
    •  Jumper cables
    • Flares or reflective triangle
    • Ice scraper
    • Car cell phone charger
    • Blanket
    • Map
    • Cat litter or sand (for better tire traction)

During an extreme cold event:

  • Heat your home safely. Do not use your stove, oven or a propane, gas or charcoal stove to heat your home. If you are running a generator, it should be located outside and at least 20 feet from windows, doors or vents. The fumes emitted from all these items can be deadly to breathe if they accumulate in your home.
  • Light your home safely. Battery powered flashlights or lanterns are safer, and better for your lungs, than candles.
  • Keep a supply of water on hand, as extreme cold can cause pipes to freeze or even burst.
  • Dress warmly and stay dry.

If you have been diagnosed with a chronic lung disease, such as asthma or COPD, the extreme cold can make it even more difficult to catch your breath. Cold, dry air can make symptoms worse and cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Here are a few tips to help protect your lungs:

  • Follow your asthma or COPD action plan and contact your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen. 
  • Limit your exposure to cold and wind. If you need to go outside, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. 
  • Don’t try to exercise outside in severe cold weather. If you shovel snow, watch your symptoms and do not overexert yourself.

When dealing with extreme cold, be sure to check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that they are keeping safely heated.

For more information on protecting your lungs in extreme weather, please contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA.

Additional Resources

Page last updated: June 17, 2024

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