The Medical Officer of Health will issue an Extreme Cold Weather Alert when Environment Canada forecasts a temperature of -15°C or colder, or a wind chill of -20°C or colder, for the city of Toronto. The Cold Weather Response Plan is in effect each year between November 15 and April 15.
Extreme Cold Weather Alerts may also be issued when the forecast includes factors that increase the impact of cold weather on health. These include precipitation, low daytime temperatures, or several days and nights of cold weather in a row. The Cold Weather Response Plan provides a framework for implementing and coordinating cold weather preparedness and response activities which focus on reducing the negative health impacts of cold weather conditions.
To find out total days and dates that extreme cold weather alerts were issued in Toronto for winter seasons going back to 2004-2005, visit Statistics on Extreme Cold Weather Alerts in Toronto.
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Register your email in order to receive a notice when the Medical Officer of Health issues and terminates an Extreme Cold Weather Alert.
The personal information on this form is collected under the authority of the City of Toronto Act, 2006 and the Health Protection and Promotion Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H.7. The information is used to subscribe the provided email address to a City of Toronto e-notice for cold weather alerts. Questions about this collection may be directed to the Manager, Healthy Environments, Toronto Public Health, 5100 Yonge St., 2nd floor, Toronto, ON M2N 5V7. Telephone: 416-338-7600. By subscribing to this service you are providing express consent, as defined by the Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), to receive email updates from the City of Toronto.
Prevent Cold-Related Illness
Cold weather can result in the development of cold-related injuries, such as frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia. Cold weather can also exacerbate existing conditions, such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
With prolonged exposure to cold, damp conditions, individuals at higher risk of cold-related illness, such as people who are homeless, can also develop trenchfoot (also known as immersion foot).
Learn how to spot the symptoms of and treat cold-related illness. If you suspect frostbite or hypothermia, seek medical attention immediately.
Frostnip & Frostbite
Frostnip and frostbite occur when skin and other tissues freeze and die because blood and oxygen can no longer circulate. Frostnip and frostbite can affect any area of exposed skin, such as the cheeks, ears, nose, hands and feet. Prolonged exposure to extreme cold is of particular concern for extremities, such as fingers and toes.
Symptoms of frostnip
- Red and cold skin; skin may start to turn white, but is still soft
- Prickling and numbness
- Tingling and stinging
How to treat frostnip
If you suspect frostnip, get out of the cold, wind, rain or snow and:
- Remove tight jewelry or clothing
- Place cold fingers in your armpits, or warm a cold nose or cheek with the palm of your warm hand
- Do not rub or massage the area
Symptoms of frostbite
- Skin appearing white or grayish-yellow and feeling cold to the touch
- Skin feeling unusually firm or waxy
- Pins and needles, followed by numbness
How to treat frostbite
Frostbite can permanently damage body tissues and severe cases can lead to amputation. If you suspect frostbite, seek medical attention right away.
While waiting for medical help:
- Find warm shelter and remove wet clothes.
- If you can get out of the cold until medical attention is available, you can begin to warm the affected area. If warm shelter is not available and there is a possibility that skin will refreeze, do not try to warm frostbitten skin. You can rewarm by:
- immersing the affected area in warm but not hot water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body), or
- warming the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
- Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it. This can cause more damage.
- Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes, if possible.
- Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Since frostbite makes an area numb, you could burn it.
A person with frostbite may also have hypothermia. Get immediate emergency medical help if you suspect hypothermia.
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 35°C. At first, hypothermia causes shivering, confusion, and stumbling. With longer exposure, hypothermia can have severe consequences including organ failure and death.
Symptoms of hypothermia for adults
- Loss of muscular control (e.g., difficulty walking)
- Memory loss, slurred speech
- Difficulty speaking and drowsiness
Symptoms of hypothermia for children
- Bright red, cold skin
- Very little energy
How to treat hypothermia
Hypothermia is a serious medical condition. If you suspect that someone has hypothermia, seek medical attention immediately.
While waiting for medical help:
- Find a warm room or shelter.
- Keep muscles moving.
- Remove wet clothing. Replace wet things with warm, dry clothes.
- Wrap the individual in blankets/dry clothing or reheat the body through skin-to-skin contact with another person.
- Drink warm, sweet liquids.
- Don’t fight shivering, this is one of the ways your body increases its core temperature.
- If a person is unconscious lay them down and avoid shaking them or handling them roughly.
People at Risk of Cold-Related Illness
Stay Healthy in Extreme Cold Weather
Exposure to extreme cold weather can be harmful to your health. Follow these tips to stay warm, dry and healthy this winter.
Check on Family, Friends and Neighbours
During extreme cold weather conditions, please check (e.g., call, video call, text, etc.) on higher risk family, friends and neighbours, especially seniors living alone. If no answer is received, consider knocking on their door to check on them.
Dress in Layers and Cover Exposed Skin
- Cover as much exposed skin as possible. Frostbite can develop over a relatively short period of time during periods of extreme cold.
- Wear waterproof and windproof outer layers.
- Wear a hat.
- Choose warm mittens instead of gloves.
- Wear warm, waterproof boots.
- Choose wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing, these materials hold more body heat than cotton.
- Avoid wearing wet clothing, as you are more likely to develop hypothermia if you are cold and wet.
- Change into dry clothing as soon as possible if you get wet from precipitation, sweat or submersion in water.
Take Care When Outdoors
- Check the weather report before going outside.
- Warm up by taking regular breaks in heated buildings such as libraries and malls.
- Reschedule outdoor activities and limit time outdoors if severe weather is forecast.
Stay Active and Safe
- Wear comfortable winter boots with a wide and low heel.
- Wear several layers of warm, lightweight clothing when shovelling snow and follow medical advice if you have a history of back or heart problems.
- Wear bright-coloured clothing in snowy weather.
- Notify friends or family where you will be when going on outdoor activities, such as hiking or skating.
Take Care Walking on Ice
- Take care when walking on ice. Many cold-weather injuries result from slips and falls on ice-covered surfaces.
- Keep your steps and walkways free of ice and snow by using rock salt or other de-icing compounds.
- Call 311 for information on sidewalk and snow clearing and free snow removal services for senior and disabled persons.
- Listen to the weather forecast.
- Avoid travelling in low visibility and on ice covered roads.
- Clear your vehicle windows of all frost and snow so you can clearly see pedestrians, cyclists and other road users.
- Take a charged mobile phone.
- Make sure your car has a survival kit including a first aid kit, water and additional warm clothing.
- Let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive.
- Cycle along the City’s network of cycling snow routes, which receive enhanced levels of snowplowing, salting and snow removal.
Avoid Drinking Alcohol
- Drinking alcohol increases blood flow in the vessels close to your skin, making you feel warm even though you are losing body heat.
Get Ready for Winter
Get your home and car ready for winter:
- Heat your home to a minimum temperature of 21°C.
- For renters: Toronto has a bylaw that requires landlords provide heat and maintain a minimum temperature of 21°C between September 15 and June 1 of each year (Municipal Code Chapter 497 Article 1).
- Conduct regular maintenance, including ensuring your heating system is working properly.
- Prepare for the possibility of power outages.
- If you have a car, make sure it has a survival kit including a first aid kit and water.
- If you need to report a pet or animal that may be in distress, Toronto Animal Services responds to complaints about animals exposed to extreme weather on a priority basis.
Plan Ahead: Groups & Organizations
Groups and organizations should develop a plan for how they will handle cold weather to ensure that everyone will stay safe.
What to include in your plan:
- Checking the weather forecast.
- Rescheduling or limiting outdoor activities during Extreme Cold Weather Alerts or other wintry conditions.
- Ensuring availability of warm drinks.
- Ensuring children are dressed warmly, covering exposed skin.
- Scheduling warm-up breaks for outdoor workers.
- Training for staff to recognize and treat symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia.
Groups and organizations should also develop an emergency plan in case of power outages during the winter.