Winter can be harsh, especially during Ottawa’s coldest month – January. On average, there are 140 emergency department visits in Ottawa related to cold exposure per year. About 2/3 are for frostbite, more common among young people, and about 1/3 are for hypothermia, more common in those aged 65 and older.
Those who are most vulnerable to cold exposure injuries include:
• Infants (under 1 year)
• People 65 years of age or older
• People experiencing homelessness
• Outdoor workers
• Sport enthusiasts (skiers, ice skaters)
• People living in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat
• People living in homes without power (usually due to other weather-related events such as a winter storm).
It is important to check the weather before leaving home and seek shelter indoors if you are starting to feel cold. Take frequent indoor breaks when working outside or participating in outdoor activities on very cold days.
Dressing for cold weather in Ottawa means wearing three layers:
• a sweat-wicking layer such as a synthetic shirt or underwear
• a warm layer such as a fleece or wool sweater and warm pants
• a wind and water protective layer such as a warm winter coat and pants that are waterproof
It is also important to keep exposed skin covered when wind makes the skin vulnerable to freezing. When the wind makes it feel like -20C or colder exposed skin can freeze in 10 minutes. Ears, fingers, toes, cheeks and noses are most at risk of frostbite.
Help for people experiencing homelessness
The City of Ottawa has a plan to respond to the cold weather needs of people who are experiencing homelessness. The response is organized in partnership with a network of community agencies and groups that provide relevant services. The following resources are available to respond to this need:
3-1-1 Call Line
The City’s 3-1-1 line is available to respond to calls related to people at risk of the cold 24-hours a day and will:
• inform the Salvation Army Outreach Van about people in need during the cold
• provide information about emergency shelters, and
• refer people to 2-1-1 for information on social service programs and initiatives.
2-1-1 Call Line
The provincial 2-1-1 line provides information on and referrals to local community, social, health and government services. They can assist
Ottawa Public Health
We have online resources on cold weather:
• Cold Weather
• Cold Weather Resource Kit for Service Providers