5 winter dangers and how to manage them

A person walking down a road in a blizzard.

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Manitoba winter started out mild this year, with snowfall coming late due to the El Nino phenomenon. The temperature is uncharacteristically mild in December but winter is far from cancelled. We should expect extended cold periods through January and February according to the The Weather Network.

With more ice and snow on the way, here are some tips to avoid common winter dangers to keep yourself safe:

  1. Slips and falls

    With the snow, slush, ice, mud and wet surfaces all around you, it’s easy to slip and fall. Sprains, broken bones, or worse, hip fractures can result from this. To prevent slips and falls, you should:

    • Get shoes with proper traction. Snow boots that have a thick non-slip tread sole made of natural rubber are ideal. Shoes should be well-insulated, waterproof, light weight, and have wide, low heels.
    • Consider getting ice grippers or cleats. If you walk around on snow a lot, consider ice grippers or cleats. These are attached to the soles of your shoes to provide added traction. They have small spikes underneath to help prevent sliding on slippery surfaces. Just remember to take them off when you transition to walking on cement sidewalks.
    • Keep entranceways and sidewalks clear of ice and snow.
    • Keep a small bag of grit, sand, or cat litter in your pocket or bag. Sprinkle some when you need to pass through icy sidewalks or steps.
    • Walk slowly and carefully. Watch where you are going. When you’re in a hurry, you tend to miss icy paths or puddles along the way.
  2. Frostbite

    Your fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin are usually the parts that get frostbitten first. Cold temperature can freeze the skin and underlying tissues. When this happens, the skin looks white, waxy or grayish-yellow. Extreme frostbite can cause complete numbness, blisters may form, and the skin tissue dies and turns black. Extreme cases can lead to amputation.
    To prevent frostbite, make sure that you are wearing proper winter gear. This means a winter coat, gloves/mittens, face cover (like a ski mask), scarves, hats, boots that can withstand the temperature. Don’t expose a lot of skin and don’t stay outside longer than you need to. If you feel that you may have developed frostbite:

    • Move indoors and stay warm.
    • If it is not severe, use warm washcloths or warm water (make sure to dry the area with a towel afterwards).
    • Take off tight clothing that may impair circulation.
    • Elevate the affected area to ease pain and swelling.
    • If the numbness or pain continues, seek medical attention.

    How to identify and treat frostbite, CBC News Manitoba

  3. Hypothermia

    Hypothermia sets in when the body temperature drops below 35 °C (95°F). It starts with extreme shivering. Later on, a person experiencing hypothermia may feel exhausted and drowsy. Some may become clumsy, confused, or start slurring their words. In severe cases, a person can become unconscious.

    Again, this is caused by extended exposure to the cold. If it is necessary for you to be outside in cold temperature, ensure that you are wearing the proper clothing and gear. Stay as dry as possible. Look for shelter nearby for relief. If you encounter a person with symptoms of hypothermia:

    • Move them indoors to a warm area.
    • Seek medical help. Call 9-1-1.
    • Remove any wet clothing and keep the patient warm. Wrap them in blankets, pillows and/or newspapers.
    • Keep them in a horizontal position.
  4. Carbon monoxide poisoning

    Since carbon monoxide is a colourless and odourless gas, it can be a silent killer. It can be lethal even in small doses. Accidental poisoning rises in winter with carbon monoxide coming from poorly working heaters or generators. The gas can be trapped inside enclosed spaces where it can build up to dangerous levels. A person suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning will have the following symptoms:

    • Mild headache and breathlessness (when engaging in mild physical exertion).
    • Continued exposure induces flu-like symptoms, severe headaches, chest pains, dizziness and nausea.
    • Advanced symptoms include confusion, irritability, and impaired judgement, memory and coordination.
    • Seek immediate medical help if you or someone exhibits any of these symptoms.

    To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

    • Install carbon monoxide detectors inside your home. Make sure that they are working. Change their batteries regularly.
    • Don’t run your car engine or warm up your car in an enclosed garage.
    • Check indoor heaters, gas-fueled cooking units, or furnaces if they are working properly. Some warning signs are soot around fuel-burning appliances, orange or yellow flames (it should be blue) in your gas appliances, or damaged or discoloured bricks at the top of your chimney.
  5. Vehicular accidents

    The first day of snow in Manitoba is usually marked by several car accidents. It’s probably because motorists forget that they now need to decrease their speed due to icy roads. Getting stranded and stuck in a ditch after swerving or stalling, and collisions, are the most common road mishaps. If this happens to you:

    • Stay calm and assess the situation. If there are people around willing to assist you, ask for help.
    • If you are in a hazardous position, call 9-1-1. However, if you are not injured and just need towing, call emergency roadside assistance. If it involves other vehicles and possible injuries, call the police.
    • Stay in your vehicle if you are stranded on a busy road or highway. Call for assistance and wait. If you get out, you may get lost in blowing or drifting snow. Or worse, you can get hit by passing vehicles who may not see you immediately.
    • Display a trouble signal. You can use as a brightly colored cloth on the radio antenna and turn on the hazard lights.
    • Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning while you’re in the car. Keep your vehicle’s exhaust pipe clear of snow and open a window slightly for ventilation.

    To prepare for winter driving you should:

    • Check your vehicle and ensure that it is ready for winter. Invest in winter tires. Read Top 3 winter driving tips.
    • Always stay updated about weather news and road conditions. For maps and safety information, go to: Manitoba 511. You can also install the 511 app or Waze for information on the go. Call Highway Information Services at 945-3704 or Toll Free at 1-877-627-6237 for recorded announcements on winter road conditions.
    • Whether you are a new or seasoned driver, always drive according to road conditions. Drive slowly and leave enough space between your car and the one in front of you. Remember that snow and ice-covered roads increase your stopping distance.
    • Have an emergency kit in your car. This should include a cellular phone (and charger), blanket, extra jacket, water and food. Have all emergency numbers on hand.
    • If you are driving a long distance, inform your family where you’re going and when you expect to arrive. Make sure that someone will expect you from that destination so that they can call for help if you do not arrive at the expected time.

Article updated December 6, 2023.
Sources: Safety tips for winter walking, Canada Safety Council; What to do when winter has you in its icy grip, National Safety Council Mission; Safety Talk – Winter Hazards, Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA).ca Magazine; Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, Healthy Canadians.ca.; What should you do if your car breaks down on the highway? Citynews.

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Community Resources

Read: What to do if you’ve been in a car accident to help you prepare for winter mishaps.

Information and emergency contact numbers on Manitoba Winter Roads: Winter Road Accident Procedures and Communication.

For more winter safety tips, go to Winnipeg 311: EmergWeb

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