Do you know how to stay safe if you lose heat during extreme cold?

Click to play video: 'Ontarians experience 1st seasonal cold snap'
Ontarians experience 1st seasonal cold snap
Parts of Ontario are experiencing the first cold snap of this winter season. Jaden Lee-Lincoln reports on what that means for residents, schools and outdoor workers – Jan 15, 2024

Extreme cold has swept across Canada, bringing heavy snowfall and strong winds and breaking temperature records in Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

Those temperatures, the Red Cross warns, can bring frostbite and hypothermia — even death.

“As Canadians, no matter where we are, whether it’s Winnipeg or up north or Victoria, we all experience some level of winter,” said Jason Small, Canadian Red Cross spokesperson.

“And we need to be prepared for that.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta government looks to avoid more electrical grid alerts'
Alberta government looks to avoid more electrical grid alerts

The advice comes as Alberta has issued multiple alerts to the public over the last three days to immediately conserve electricity as its provincial power grid strains to keep up with demands amid the frigid temperatures.

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Parts of B.C. and southern Ontario are also facing deep freezes.

Searches for terms like “extreme cold” have spiked on Google among Canadian users and are projected to keep climbing. And while Alberta has averted the need for rollout blackouts, the temperatures in many parts of the country are deep in the negative double digits, raising questions about what could be done in the event of a loss of heat and power amid a brutal stretch of winter.

Click to play video: 'How to keep your vehicle running, home protected during Alberta’s dangerous cold snap'
How to keep your vehicle running, home protected during Alberta’s dangerous cold snap

The most important step, Small told Global News, is to be prepared and have an emergency plan in place in case, for example, the power goes out for more than a day.

In that case, Small said, having supplies of water, non-perishable food items, and a crank- or battery-operated flashlight and radio are key, along with spare eyeglasses and medicine.

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He recommended having another kit in your car, along with extra blankets and clothing, road flares, sand or salt or kitty litter to help tires gain traction and a shovel.

Small, speaking from Winnipeg (which was around -20 C on Monday), said anyone going out in the weather needed to ask themselves an important question ahead of doing so – whether they really needed to.

“If you don’t have to drive, then don’t. It’s not worth the risks,” he said.

Finding shelter, if possible, is also crucial if caught outdoors or on the roads. Making sure to keep moving can help maintain body heat, according to Health Canada’s extreme cold advice page.

Having a non-electric standby stove or heater available in a place they can be safely used can be valuable, with adequate venting, federal emergency preparedness guidelines say.

Backup generators can also help, but it’s important to be aware of how to use them safely — and never bring a barbecue or other kind of gas-powered appliance indoors because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Click to play video: 'Calgary fire reminding citizens about the dangers of carbon monoxide as cold settles in'
Calgary fire reminding citizens about the dangers of carbon monoxide as cold settles in

“If we get into these extreme calls like they’re seeing out West right now, then we just need to sit back and say, ‘Do I need to go outside right now?’” Cameron Dubé, outdoor adventure program co-ordinator at Algonquin College in Pembroke, Ont., told Global News.

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If you need to be out in the cold, he also said you need to plan ahead.

And he urged everyone to dress warmly and in layers.

The less active you are, he told Global News, the more layers and puffier the jacket you’ll need.

He said being well hydrated and well fed will have a “huge impact” on whether you can stay warm when cold – with less water and food meaning your body is less likely to be able to adapt.

He said the type of food also matters, explaining that calories from sugar are good for instant energy but “in the long run, we want to be looking at those those thicker calories, right? Nuts and seeds and carbohydrates.”

If you can’t stay home and the long johns, fleece, coats, hats and scarves fail, you can face hypothermia or frostbite.

The former, according to the Red Cross, is marked by shivering and numbness when mild and confusion and slowed breathing when severe.

Frostbite occurs when skin freezes. Early symptoms include skin that is paler than usual with a white, waxy appearance.

Both said anyone aware of someone suffering from either should contact emergency services, and it’s important to help warm the person (but not to rub frostbitten skin).

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— with a file from Saba Aziz

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