Winter Weather Guide: Information on Safety, Health and Home

by Office of Emergency Management, Office of the Mayor

by Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management | December 21, 2016

The winter season, which runs December 21st  through March 20th, is filled with holidays and experiences that make it memorable.

It also is a season that is filled with hazards that affect our safety, health, and home.

Statistics compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration shows the winter months see more home fires, caused primarily from cooking followed closely by heating.

According to the United States Department of Transportation, winter weather is to blame for the majority of crashes that kill 6,253 people and injure more than 480,000 Americans a year from wet, snowy or icy roadways.

Volatile weather that includes snow, freezing rain, ice, and zero degree temperatures due to Wind Chill Values can affect our health and also damage our homes.

The winter season is no surprise to anyone: we know the dates. However, many may not be ready for its arrival. Our Winter Weather Guide and information from City of Philadelphia departments can help.

Prepare for the hazards that winter brings and you will be more likely to be safe and avoid costly home repair bills that freezing temperatures bring.

                                                          What You Should Know 

Health

  • Know what we know: Be ready for whatever the weather may bring. Sign up for free ReadyPhiladelphia alerts to get Watches and Warnings from the National Weather Service, emergency information from the City of Philadelphia, and service interruption for your SEPTA routes.
  • Prolonged exposure to the cold can result in serious health problems, most common being hypothermia and frostbite according to the Philadelphia Department of Health.
    • Hypothermia– Cold temperatures can cause your body to lose heat faster than it can be produced, which can cause hypothermia.
      • When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced.
      • Low body temperature may make you unable to think clearly or move well.
      • You may not know you have hypothermia.
      • If your temperature is below 95°, get medical attention immediately. This is an emergency.
    • Frostbite- an injury to the body caused by freezing.
      • Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes.
      • Wind chill and wind speed affect the actual air temperature and perceived temperature as well as the amount of time until frostbite occurs. The higher the wind speed and lower the temperature, the quicker frostbite can set in. Anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes according to the CDC.
    • Heart Attack and Dehydration- While shoveling or performing strenuous activity outdoors, avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Take frequent rest breaks and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • Code Blue is issued when cold weather becomes a danger to individuals who are homeless and are without shelter. Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services consults with the City’s Department of Behavioral Health to issue a Code Blue as a means to help the homeless get indoors during extremely cold weather conditions. If you see a person who is homeless and in need please call Homeless Outreach  at 215-232-1984.
  • Save 9-1-1 for emergencies. Contact the city’s non-emergency service, Philly311, with any questions or concerns.
  • Philadelphia is known as a “City of Neighborhoods”, a moniker earned as our residents look out for one another. The Philadelphia Police Department has reminded us of this before, asking to check on neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable, such as the disabled, the elderly, and those without reliable heat. That will warm your heart!

Pets

  • The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes that winter’s “dry, cold air and chilly rain, sleet and snow can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin, but these aren’t the only discomforts pets can suffer. Winter walks can become downright dangerous if chemicals from ice-melting agents are licked off of bare paws.” To remedy this, the ASPCA recommends keeping you home humidified and a dry towel waiting near your door to wipe your animals paws when they come inside.
  • It is against City ordinance to leave pets outside in extreme cold and owners can be fined up to $500. Call the  Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia (ACCT Philly) hotline at 267-385-3800 if you see a dog or other pet outside during extreme cold.

Home

  • Home Heating and Fire Danger
  • CO Poisoning
    • Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas, can be produced from improperly vented furnaces, plugged or cracked chimneys, water heaters, fireplaces, stoves and tail pipes. Philadelphia Gas Works tips can help you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Frozen Pipes
    • Extreme cold can cause pipes and the ground to expand and contract, and very cold river water can also make water mains more brittle. In part, those factors can help to explain why more than half of Philadelphia’s water main breaks occur during the coldest months in a typical year. Information from the Philadelphia Water Department looks to avoid costly repairs.

Weather

  • The National Weather Service will issue a Winter Storm Watch or Winter Storm Warning to alert residents to the pending storm and its hazards. Sign up for free ReadyPhiladelphia alerts to have this important information and any updates delivered to your phone or device as an alert or email.
  • Snow Emergency
    • The City’s Managing Director will announce a Snow Emergency. For residents, this means all parked cars must be moved off Snow Emergency routes for plowing. When moving your car, park as far from the corner of the street as possible; vehicles parked too close to the corner get in the way of snow plows trying to turn corners. Snow Emergency information and a map of Snow Emergency routes can be found at the Philadelphia Streets Department website. Cars left on Snow Emergency routes will be moved to other parking spots to assist in snow plowing operations. If your car is moved, call 215-686-SNOW to find it.
  • Shoveling Sidewalks
    • Within six hours of the end of a snowfall or freezing rain, you must clear a path at least 36 inches wide on your sidewalk including curb cuts. Do not shovel or sweep the snow into the street. The penalty for violating this regulation can range from $50 up to $300 for each violation.
  • Plow Routes
    • In order to provide effective service during winter storms, streets are divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary route systems. The primary route system encompasses 665 miles, including 110 miles of Snow Emergency Routes. The secondary route system includes another 700 miles of streets (both systems exclude the roadway maintained by the Parks and Recreation). The balance of City streets falls into the tertiary street system, covering approximately 1,125 miles of streets, 25 miles of which are private streets.

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