Ahead of Dangerously Cold Temperatures, Wolf Administration Urges Safety, Preparedness

Harrisburg, PA – As extremely cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills are set to affect the commonwealth, Governor Tom Wolf reminds residents of the need for safety and preparedness during the winter months.

“Cold temperatures can be damaging to our health, the health of our seniors and the health of our pets,” Governor Wolf said. “I urge all Pennsylvanians to take steps to make sure they are prepared for these cold temperatures and to check on neighbors and watch out for one another.”

Air temperatures through Saturday will be very cold, with wind chills well below zero and potentially as cold as negative 30 degrees. With wind chills at these dangerous temperatures frostbite can occur on exposed skin in 20 minutes or less, and hypothermia can set in rapidly as well.

State agencies, including the departments of Health and Aging, and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and PennDOT are urging people to stay indoors if possible, and if people must travel outdoors, to take proper precautions.

“Hypothermia and frostbite are extremely dangerous conditions and people need to take precautions to protect themselves,” said Acting Secretary of Health and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine. “With the forecasted temperatures, these conditions can occur within a matter of just a few minutes. People need to wear layers, hats, gloves, scarves and other items to make sure that all skin is protected if traveling outside.

Hypothermia occurs when the body becomes too cold and cannot keep itself warm, and is dangerous because it affects the brain and can prevent people from thinking clearly and moving well. Early symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, drowsiness, confusion, memory loss and slurred speech. Late stage symptoms include a lack of shivering, blue skin, a slowed pulse, slowed breathing and loss of consciousness. If you believe someone has hypothermia, you should take their temperature. If the temperature is below 95 degrees, they need immediate medical attention.

Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in areas exposed to the cold, and can permanently damage parts of the body. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes – those areas typically exposed to the elements. This is why it is so important to protect all skin. If you experience redness or pain on any skin area, it is essential to protect that exposed skin and get out of the cold as soon as possible. Signs of frostbite include white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that is firm or waxy, and numbness. Individuals with frostbite symptoms should seek medical care.

For more information on cold temperatures and your health, visit www.health.pa.gov.

The extreme cold can be particularly dangerous to certain age groups, including infants and seniors.

“While all Pennsylvanians should be cautious when dealing with this current bout of extremely frigid winter weather, older adults are especially vulnerable as they are at increased risk for complications from conditions including snow, ice, and the bitter cold,” said Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne.  “Extremely cold temperatures equal severe weather, and we encourage all Pennsylvanians to be a good neighbor by checking on older loved ones, friends, and neighbors during this and other severe weather. Being a good neighbor can help save a life.”

Here are some tips for checking on your elderly neighbors during winter weather:

  • Take a few minutes to shovel out their driveway and sidewalks and clear the front of all the doors, so that even if the elderly occupant does not need to get out, if need be, medical personnel, home health workers, or meals on wheels volunteers can get in. If they have a car, offer to clean off the snow, start it up, and let it run for a few minutes.
  • Engage in a conversation with your elderly neighbors.  Ask them if their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work and if they have an adequate supply of oil, batteries, water, food, and medications. If you are headed to the market, call and ask if you can pick anything up for them.
  • Knock on the door of those you may not have seen out during or after a severe weather event. Sometimes a quick check-in can make a big difference — for safety or for those who may be afraid or lonely.

To learn about local resources available to seniors during extreme weather, contact your Area Agency on Aging – www.aging.pa.gov/AAA.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, as the state’s agency to respond to disasters, is taking steps to ensure that all needs are met.

“We typically don’t see temperatures this cold, combined with extreme wind chills for an extended period of time,” PEMA Director Richard D. Flinn Jr. said. “PEMA is working closely with county emergency management coordinators and partner state agencies to monitor conditions across the state, and we are going to be ready to respond with whatever state resources are needed.”

Flinn said citizens should also be aware that they can reach out to their county emergency management offices for information regarding help that might be available to them, particularly warming shelters.

It is also important for people to take steps to protect their pets and other animals who are outdoors from the cold temperatures.

“Many people assume that domesticated animals like cats and dogs have fur and therefore can safely be kept outside in extremely cold weather,” said Sarah Speed, Acting Executive Director of the PA State Animal Response Team (PA SART). “However, there aren’t many animals that can withstand brutal cold without insulated or heated shelter. Take the time to provide them with protection from the weather and take steps to keep them safe.”

Speed provided the following tips:

  • Provide protective shelter by raising it off the ground and lining it with a blanket or cedar shavings, and keep the opening away from weather. Remember, that may still not be sufficient to keep pets warm so check your pet often and if in doubt, bring them inside.
  • Provide potable water and healthy food as cold temperatures can cause shivering and burn more calories than usual. Use a heated bowl to ensure water doesn’t freeze.
  • Keep older or ill pets indoors; stay with them during toileting outdoors, as they can easily fall and injure themselves.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite or injury from salt or small cuts from icy, rough surfaces.
  • Never leave your dog inside a parked car, which can quickly amplify the effects of cold weather just as it does during hot summer months.

PennDOT advised that with low temperatures and high winds forecast, along with snow that has fallen in locations, to take extra caution while driving and give themselves extra time. With January 7-13 being Winter Driving Awareness Week, now is a great time for drivers to prepare their vehicles for winter and familiarize themselves with winter safety laws. Motorists can always check road conditions on over 40,000 miles of roadway at http://www.511PA.com.

For more on information on the Wolf Administration’s steps to protect Pennsylvanians, visit www.pa.gov or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.