Winter Weather Health Tips
When the temperature drops, staying safe and warm and performing everyday activities can be challenging and dangerous. Young children, older adults, the chronically ill and the homeless are most at risk of having cold-related health problems. Pets are at risk too.
The Sonoma County Department of Health Services urges people to take steps to protect themselves, and to check to be sure their families, friends, clients, neighbors and pets stay safe and warm this winter.
On this page:
Healthy Habits for Cold Weather
- Ensure you are heating your home safely and that you have a working carbon monoxide detector. Close off unused, exterior rooms and gather together in a single interior room.
- If you use a space heater, ensure it is on a level surface and keep flammable items at least three feet away. Turn off space heaters and ensure fireplace embers are out before leaving the room or going to bed.
- If your home is not heated, go to a friend or family member's house or local shelter. During the day, seek shelter in heated public places, like malls and libraries.
- Dress warmly and stay dry. Wear loose layers of clothing.
- Eat well. Food provides the body with energy.
- If you have to work outdoors, dress warmly and work slowly; excessive perspiration can increase heat loss. Return indoors if you have persistent shivering; it is a sign that the body is losing heat.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs that can impair judgment and the ability to regulate body temperature.
Up-to-date Weather Information
Staying Safe During Storms, Flood Watches and Warnings
Winter storms in Sonoma County can be deadly, causing flooding, flash floods, high coastal surf and mudslides.
Before The Storm
- Keep insurance policies, documents and other valuables in a safe-deposit box.
- Check your homeowner's or renter's insurance for flood coverage - if none exists, consider purchasing.
- Store supplies at work, home and car in handy locations
- Keep your car fueled. If electric power is cut off, filling stations may not be able to operate.
- If your home is in an area subject to flooding, keep sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting, lumber and other emergency building materials handy for waterproofing.
During The Storm
- Avoid areas that are subject to sudden flooding. For example, certain sections of Hwy 101 are prone to flooding.
- Do not try to drive over a flooded road. This may cause you to be both stranded and trapped.
- If your car stalls, abandon it IMMEDIATELY and seek higher ground. Many deaths have resulted from attempts to move stalled vehicles.
- Do not "sightsee" in flooded areas or try to enter areas blocked off by local authorities.
- When driving, slow down if visibility is reduced by heavy fog or rain.
- Avoid unnecessary trips. If you must travel during the storm, dress in warm, loose layers of clothing. Advise others of your destination.
- Do not try to cross a flowing stream where water is above your knees. Even water as low as 6 inches deep may cause you to be swept away by strong currents.
- Tune to local radio or television stations for emergency information and instructions from local authorities. Television Channels include: KFTY Ch50, KTVU Ch2, NBC11 Ch3, KRON Ch4, KPIX Ch5, KGO Ch7. Radio Stations include: KST 100.1 FM, KSRO AM 1350, KCBS AM 740, KBBF 89.1 FM (Spanish).
After The Storm
- Follow local instructions regarding the safety of drinking water. If in doubt, boil or purify water before drinking. Have wells pumped out and the water tested before drinking.
- Avoid disaster areas; your presence could hamper rescue and other emergency operations, and you may be in danger.
- Avoid downed power lines and broken gas lines. Report them immediately to PG&E, police or fire department.
- Stay tuned to radio or television for information and instructions from local authorities.
Homeless Services, Emergency Shelters
- The Sonoma County Task Force for the Homeless maintains a Homeless Resource Guide.
- In cold weather many homeless shelters add additional spaces and warming centers may open.
- For information about Sonoma County shelters and warming centers call 211 or visit their website.
Exposure to Cold Temperatures
Exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious and life-threatening health problems, including frostbite and hypothermia (lower than normal body temperature). The elderly and medically fragile are particularly susceptible to the cold.
Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness.
If a person is suffering from hypothermia do not give the individual caffeine or alcohol, both of which can worsen the condition. Until medical help is available, use a blanket to gradually warm the individual.
If your home is not heated, go to a friend or family member or local shelter. During the day, seek shelter in heated public places, like malls and libraries. In cold weather many homeless shelters add additional spaces. For information about Sonoma County shelters and warming centers call 211 or visit their website.
- Wear winter clothing indoors, including layers of warm clothes, as well as socks, shoes, and hats. Use blankets for additional warmth.
- Close off unused, exterior rooms and gather together in a single interior room.
- Wear layers of light, warm clothing; mittens; hats; scarves; and waterproof boots. Sprinkle cat litter or sand on slippery or icy patches.
- Take a buddy and an emergency kit when you are participating in outdoor recreation.
- Avoid traveling when the weather service has issued advisories.
- Inform a friend or relative of your proposed route and expected time of arrival.
- Carry a cell phone.
Staying Safe during a Power Outage
Be prepared for weather-related emergencies, including power outages. When power outages occur, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating or cooking can cause carbon monoxide (CO) to build up in a home, garage or camper and can kill the people and animals inside. CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled.
- Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Have a safe alternate heating source and alternate fuels available. Alternate heating sources can include properly used generators and well-maintained fireplaces.
- Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
- Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
- Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas or propane burning appliances regularly serviced by a qualified technician.
- Ensure that all fuel burning devices are properly ventilated. Fireplaces need to be kept free of debris, and chimneys and flues should be maintained.
- Install a CO detector with a working battery to alert you of the presence of the deadly, odorless, colorless gas.
- Ovens should never be used for heating.
- Learn the symptoms of CO poisoning: headaches, nausea, and disorientation. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
- Keep generators out of the house and garage. Position generators at least 25 feet from the house.
- Stock food that needs no cooking or refrigeration and water stored in clean containers.
- Keep an up-to-date emergency kit, including:
- battery-operated devices, such as a flashlight and radio;
- extra batteries;
- first-aid kit and extra medicine, and
- baby items if you have young infants.
Pet Safety Tips
Don't leave dogs or cats outdoors when the temperature drops.
Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather.
Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts.
Check your pet's water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen.
If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age, illness or breed type, take him outdoors only to relieve himself.