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 Posted by John Jacob, a health communications writer and editor at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health

Weather forecasters are predicting some really chilly weather in the next few days – with temperatures in the single digits and the wind chill making it seem even colder. When temperatures get this low, it’s important to take precautions to keep yourself and your family safe both at home and outdoors.

At Home:

Make sure you have enough heating fuel, as well as emergency heating equipment in case you lose electricity.

If you use your fireplace, wood stove, or space heaters to provide heat, takes a few simple steps to use them safely. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, and make sure you and your family know how to use it properly. Test your smoke alarms and Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors.

Food actually provides your body with energy for producing your own heat, so don’t skimp on meals.

Have a well-stocked Winter Home Emergency Supply Kit that includes flashlights, portable radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, bottled water, and non-perishable food.

Be a good neighbor – check on elderly neighbors, friends and relatives to make sure they’re OK.

If you lose heat, seal off unused rooms by stuffing towels in the cracks under the doors. At night, cover windows with extra blankets or sheets.

If your pipes tend to freeze, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers (covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture). Here’s a tip: allow a trickle of warm water to run from the faucet in your house that’s farthest away from your water meter, or from a faucet that’s frozen in the past. This will keep the water moving so it can’t freeze. And be sure you know how to shut off your water, in case a pipe does burst.

If your pipes do freeze, remove the insulation, completely open all your faucets and pour hot water over the pipes or wrap them in towels soaked in hot water, starting where they are most exposed to the cold. A hand-held hair dryer also works well – but please use caution because this is an electric device around water. 


Keep outdoor activities to a minimum, particularly for the elderly and very young. And don’t forget to keep your pets in mind as well.

When you go out, dress in several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing rather than a single layer of heavy clothing. Wear a hat and mittens, and cover your mouth with a scarf.

Beware of frostbite, which can happen if you’re outdoors for too long. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a pale appearance in fingers, toes, earlobes or the tip of the nose. Seek medical help immediately if you see these symptoms.

In extreme cases, hypothermia can occur. Warning signs are uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and exhaustion. Seek medical help immediately if you see these symptoms.

On the Road:

Make sure your car is properly winterized. Keep the gas tank at least half-full. Carry a winter emergency car kit, including blankets, extra clothing, flashlight with spare batteries, a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for drinking water) non-perishable foods, windshield scraper, shovel, sand, towrope and jumper cables.  

Stay Informed:

Keep up with the latest weather reports on TV and radio. Follow the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Written By:

health communication writer and editor

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