Winter storms and extreme cold

In winter, weather events may be of surprising intensity or duration. Abundant snowfall or freezing rain lasting several days, heavy blizzards and severe wind chill pose risks to individuals and property, and may cause interruptions to essential services or activities in the community.

There are certain steps you can take to reduce hazards during a winter storm:

Take precautions before winter arrives

At the first sign of freezing:

  • Inspect the condition of your heating system and roofing.
  • Verify that your backup heating system (in French only) is designed to be used indoors and is operating safely.
  • Have sufficient fuel on hand and store it safely (in French only).
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector if you use a combustion heating system.
  • Have your chimney cleaned (at least once a year).
  • Cut down dead tree branches on your property.
  • Secure objects that may blow away.
  • Ensure that your home is properly insulated.
  • Protect exposed water pipes from freezing.

Prepare for a winter storm or extreme cold warnings

If a winter storm or extreme cold is forecast:

  • Make sure you have sufficient food and water, as well as enough fuel.
  • Have adequate supplies of prescription drugs on hand.
  • Take weather warnings into account when planning activities.
  • Remove snow from your roof, or have it removed, if necessary.
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Take precautions during a winter storm or extreme cold

Follow certain safety rules:

Report all power outages to Hydro-Québec at 1 800 790-2424.

Watch for frostbite or symptoms of hypothermia

Exposure to extreme cold can have health effects, such as frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite occurs when exposed skin freezes, and it most often affects the extremities of the body (fingers, toes, nose, cheeks, ears, etc.). Frostbite is characterized by paler-than usual, waxy-looking skin.

Hypothermia occurs when the temperature of the body or part of the body falls below normal. More specifically, it occurs when a person’s oral temperature drops below 35 °C (95 °F). When the human body is hypothermic, it can no longer function normally. Hypothermia can have serious effects on health and even cause death. The symptoms of hypothermia progress from numbness to confusion, loss of consciousness, slow breathing, and cardiac and respiratory arrest.

Various precautions can be taken to prevent the harmful effects of cold temperatures on health:

  • When you go out, dress warmly, according to the temperature outside. Make sure that you cover your head, nose, mouth, neck, hands and feet properly. Wear boots that will keep your feet warm and prevent you from slipping and falling.
  • Do not stay outside for extended periods without being well protected from the cold.
  • Stay active when outside.
  • Take breaks in a warm place that is sheltered from the wind.
  • Obtain regular updates on weather conditions in your region.
  • Pay special attention to extreme cold warnings issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Extreme cold warnings are issued in Québec when the temperature or wind chill is expected to reach -38 °C for at least 2 hours. In northern Québec, extreme cold warnings are issued when the temperature or wind chill is expected to reach -48 °C for at least 2 hours.

Cold weather can also have indirect effects on health. For example, it can aggravate certain illnesses. Carbon monoxide poisoning is another indirect effect of cold weather on health.

If you have a health problem, seek advice from a health professional, or contact Info-Santé at 811 to find out if the problem makes you more vulnerable to the cold.

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Exercise caution when driving in a winter storm

Before going on the road:

  • Check road conditions by consulting Info Transports on the Internet, at www.quebec511.info, or by calling 511.
  • Remove all snow from your vehicle.
  • Clear snow away from the exhaust pipe before starting the vehicle.
  • Plan for the possibility of having to spend an extended period of time in the cold if, for example, your vehicle breaks down: bring along a cell phone that works, as well as adequate supplies of bottled water, food, covers and medication.

To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Never start the vehicle in the garage when the door is closed.
  • Do not leave the engine running in a garage or temporary shelter, even with the door open.
  • Do not use the remote starter when your vehicle is in a garage or temporary shelter, or if it is covered with snow.

If your vehicle is immobilized ​on the road:

  • Remain in your vehicle.
  • Use your vehicle emergency kit (in French only), as needed.
  • Turn on your hazard lights.
  • Attach a piece of bright-coloured material to the antenna, if possible.
  • Use the vehicle battery sparingly by alternating use of the lights, heat and the radio.
  • Turn on the interior light if it is dark outside so that you are visible to rescue teams.
  • Do a few exercises from time to time to maintain the circulation in your extremities and to avoid falling asleep.
  • Be alert to the symptoms of hypothermia.

If you must start the engine to keep the passenger compartment warm, do the following to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe.
  • Partially open a window on the sheltered side of the vehicle before starting the engine.
  • Run the engine for only 10 minutes or so every half hour.
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Remove snow from your roof

In winter, regularly monitor the roof of your house and make sure there is no snow or ice building up.

If you remove snow and ice from your roof yourself, do so safely and preferably from ground level with a roof rake fitted with a telescopic handle.

When removing snow from a temporary shelter, stay outside the shelter because it could collapse on top of you.

Do not remove snow from your roof when weather conditions are poor (wind, blowing snow) or the ground is slippery (ice, wet snow).

Contact a professional if you cannot remove the snow under optimal safety conditions.

Evacuate your home

If the authorities require you to do so or you believe that your safety is at risk, evacuate your home. Inform your loved ones or the municipality of the place where you plan to stay temporarily.

Return to your home when authorized to do so

If the authorities allow it and your safety is not at risk, return to your home, preferably during the day, when problems and hazards are easier to see. When you arrive, take pictures to document the damage to your home.

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