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Erie County prepares for bitterly cold weather leading into the weekend

Low windchills and drifting snow could create safety and travel hazards


ERIE COUNTY, NY – An arctic front will enter Erie County on Thursday evening, bringing strong winds with possible gusts in excess of 40 mph. Low windchills and a burst of moderately heavy snow may cause localized hazardous travel on Thursday evening. These conditions will increase the risks of frostbite and hypothermia for people who spend any time outdoors tonight through Saturday.  

Minimum windchills overnight on Friday through Saturday morning could dip as low as -15-20⁰F in some areas of Western New York. These are extremely cold and potentially dangerous conditions for people who go outside.

With brutally cold weather forecast through Saturday, Erie County is sharing important health and safety messages to help residents prepare.

“The December Blizzard is still fresh in our memories, and we want to take every opportunity we can to get these important recommendations to everyone in Erie County,” said County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz. “Share this information with your household, your co-workers, your friends and neighbors.”

“Being outside in this bitterly cold air can be dangerous for many people, especially older adults, young children, and people with chronic health conditions,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein. “The forecast for Sunday is relatively warm – in the mid-30s to low-40s, so if you can delay your errands or travel, and work outside, until then, that is the way to go.”

Erie County residents should know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia:

  • Frostbite can cause loss of feeling and color in the face, fingers and toes. Numb, white or grayish-yellow skin, or firm or waxy skin is a sign of frostbite and it needs immediate attention. If you suspect frostbite, get to a warm room and soak the affected skin in warm water or use body heat to warm (stick hands under armpits). Frostbite can be a medical emergency; seek medical attention. 
  • Hypothermia signs include shivering, extremely fatigue, confusion, or slurred speech or memory loss. Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If you suspect hypothermia, get that person to a warm room and start warming the center of the body first—chest, neck, head and groin. Keep the person dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck. Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If you have to spend any time outside, wear multiple, loose-fitting layers, as opposed to one bulky piece, under a jacket. In addition to insulated gloves and boots, your outer layer should be waterproof or at least water-resistant. Wear a hat that covers your ears and a scarf or other item to cover your neck. Boots and footwear should be sturdy; remember that ice and snow are tripping hazards and can lead to serious injury.

Know your limits when working outside or in cold spaces. If you need to take a break and get out of the cold, do that early, before you are fatigued to reduce the risk that you’ll injure yourself. Take regular breaks from the cold in a warm and dry area, and stay hydrated with warm liquids – tea, soup broth, hot cocoa.

Though power outages are not expected this weekend, snow, ice or traffic accidents/downed lines could interrupt power. Assemble your emergency kits and collect items like flashlights, matches and candles, warm blankets, canned food that needs minimal preparation and a can opener in an easy to reach space.

Have jumper cables in your vehicle – and learn how to use them. Keep a sturdy snow brush and ice scraper, blanket, road flares, a car cell phone charger, warm and waterproof gloves, and some snacks like granola bars and water in your vehicle.

In general, practice good home fire safety, with working smoke detectors that are tested monthly.

  • Have a working fire extinguisher and know how to use it.
  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • If you’re using space heaters for additional heat, use them only with a heavy-duty cord and keep any items that can burn at least 3 feet away from them. 

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that can cause severe illness and death.

  • Have carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home and test them monthly.
  • Gas stoves shouldn’t be used for home heat – that is a very serious hazard for carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Have a professional check your furnace and chimneys each year to keep them clear and working properly.
  • Make sure vents to the outside are clear of snow and ice. With newer construction those vents can be closer to the ground – check them for blowing or drifting snow.

Frozen pipes could cause a mini-emergency at your home with leaks or flooding. It could also interrupt your access to water for washing, cooking and cleaning.  

Protect your pets – bring them in the house or other structure that is dry and out of the elements.

Check on your neighbors, especially older adults, people with mobility challenges, or families with young kids.

And on that note, these cold conditions are not great for kids to spend time outside. If they do go out, even for a short walk or to wait for the bus, verify that they are dressed in layers with gloves, hat and warm footwear and all skin is covered.

Erie County expects that Code Blue will be in effect and that both shelters in Buffalo will be open for people experiencing homelessness. Call 2-1-1 to be connected with Code Blue shelters.

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