20 Ways to Stay Warm (and Safe) When It's Ridiculously Cold How to help yourself, family, friends and neighbors By Margaret Voelzke Published at 11:42 AM EST on Dec 8, 2016 | Updated at 10:51 AM EST on Jan 3, 2018
20 Ways to Stay Warm (and Safe) When It's Ridiculously Cold Winter weather has returned to the D.C. region, meaning it's time to remember how to keep you, your family and your neighbors safe and warm.
Here's how you can minimize the misery:
1. Bundle Up (and Swap Out the Leggings)
It might seem obvious, but piling on a few extra layers is a great way to stay warm, especially if you have to be outside. Keeping your core warm is especially important when temperatures dip below freezing, so try wearing an extra shirt or two under your coat.
Worried about looking bulky? Many sporting goods companies make cold-weather gear that is slim enough to be worn even under work clothes.
For ladies who love wearing leggings, try swapping them out for long underwear. Several hiking-gear companies make long underwear that has the same look as leggings and will help keep you warm. A bonus: Most long underwear is meant to dry quickly, so leftover snow and slush won't leave your legs damp.
2. Indulge in Foods That Help You Keep Warm
You already know that eating healthfully in the winter is important to fend off colds and the flu, but did you know it might help keep you warm, too? Eating extra healthy fats during the winter can help rev up metabolism, which in turn heats the body, according to Columbia Health.
If your New Year's resolution was to drop a few pounds, don't worry -- you can always skip the extra fat and try eating warmer foods and drinks. Try soups, spicy foods, hot coffee and teas to fend off the chill!
Although alcoholic beverages might make you feel warm, they actually decrease your core temperature and can be dangerous during winter months.
According to The New York Times and a study by Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, alcohol reverses some reflexes that control body temperature, especially the body's ability to shiver. Alcohol can also make you sweat, even when it is cold, which can lower core temperatures even more.
4. Keep Your Toes Toasty
Hypothermia is most likely to begin in extremities like your hands and feet, so keeping your toes warm is important. Whether you're walking to work or just around the block, make sure to wear sturdy, insulated shoes that will help prevent slips on slick surfaces and keep your feet dry.
Looking for a pair? Try a good pair of hiking books or, for the fashionista, this article from Glamour offers boots that are cozy and cute. Also, consider wearing an extra pair of socks (here's a helpful article to help you choose the right pair).
5. Sunglasses... Even in the Winter
If you're walking in the snow during the day, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare.
If you are walking at night, make sure to dress in colors other than white and to wear something reflective on your person to alert drivers to your presence.
Avoid walking too close to roadways, especially near icy areas where drivers may lose control of their vehicle.
6. Remember the "Three-Feet Rule"
Space heaters are a great way to add extra heat to colder rooms, but always remember to keep anything flammable at least three feet away from the heater at all times.
Flammable items include clothing, rugs, bedding and curtains. Also remember to place the heater on a hard, non-flammable, stable surface and to turn it off completely before leaving the house. Set a reminder on your phone if you're afraid you'll forget.
7. Watch Out for Furry Friends
You might be jealous of your dog or cat's fur coat when temperatures drop, but they need to be kept warm, too.
Catherine Blake, owner of Make My Day, Please dog walking services suggests dog walks should be limited to 10 minutes.
"You also have to be careful of ice in their paws because it can act like little daggers," Blake said.
Always remember to bring pets inside when temperatures begin to drop. If you have or know of animals that can't come inside (such as farm animals or neighborhood feral cats that you care for), provide enough bedding and insulated shelter for them to keep warm. If temperatures are below freezing, remember to check their water and replace it if it has frozen.
8. Monitor Fires
It's easy to snooze in front of a roaring fire, but always make sure that fireplace embers are completely out before going to bed for the night.
Wood fireplaces should always have a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
9. Don't Warm Up Your Car While It's Unattended
Although letting your car heat up before you hop in can be tempting, leaving your car running when you're not around offers the perfect opportunity for thieves to steal it.
Instead, have a family member wait inside it while you finish getting ready, and then switch "shifts" with them when you have finished. Alternate who goes first to keep it fair.
10. Assemble a Car Emergency Kit
Check the CDC's car emergency checklist to ensure you are prepared in case you have a roadside emergency during inclement weather.
11. Keep Heat Constant
Setting your thermostat at the same temperature day and night will help prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting. While avoiding a high heating bill might be tempting, you could be protecting yourself from costly repairs from frozen or burst pipes.
If you are going to be away from home for an extended period of time, don't lower heat below 55 degrees.
12. Protect Pipes
Keeping the heat on isn't the only thing you can do to protect pipes from freezing.
State Farm suggests letting your hot and cold faucets drip overnight and opening cabinet doors to allow heat to get to uninsulated pipes under sinks and on exterior walls.
Locate the water shut-off valve in your home in advance of a water emergency, so you know where to go if a pipe bursts, DC Water spokesperson Pamela Mooring advised.
13. Watch Out for Antifreeze
People often use antifreeze on sidewalks and paths to melt ice and snow, but the dangers to humans and pets if it is ingested are serious.
Know the symptoms of antifreeze poisoning in humans and monitor children who are behaving oddly after returning from playing outside.
Wipe down pets' paws, stomachs and tails when they come inside so they do not ingest antifreeze when licking themselves. Check symptoms of antifreeze poisoning in animals to ensure you are prepared in case they become sick.
14. Know the Terms
Familiarize yourself with government terms for winter weather emergencies:
Freezing Rain - Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines. Sleet - Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery. Winter Weather Advisory - Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening. Winter Storm Watch - A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information. Winter Storm Warning - A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area. Blizzard Warning - Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer. Frost/Freeze Warning - Below freezing temperatures are expected. Now that you know the terms, check NBC Washington's weather alert page for the latest on weather alerts in your area.
15. Make Sure Roads Are Safe Before Driving
Online snow plow trackers make it easy to check when roads in your area are clear and safe to drive after snowfall.
Although the trackers are not live, they do update frequently. Find them here.
16. Write Down Important Utility Numbers
Heavy snow and ice can settle on power lines and cause power outages. Write down utility numbers and have them handy during a storm in case you need to report an outage or incident.
Pepco: 1-877-737-2662 Baltimore Gas and Electric (BG&E): 1-877-778-2222 or 1-800-685-0123 SMECO: 1-877-747-6326 or 1-888-440-3311 Washington Gas: 1-800-752-7520 Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC): 1-800-828-4002
17. Watch for Signs of Hypothermia
Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can result in hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. A body temperature that's too low can affect the brain, which makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because the victim may not know it is happening.
Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at merely cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water.
Check the CDC's guide for recognizing hypothermia to prepare yourself to help someone suffering from the condition.
18. Help the Homeless
Be on the lookout for homeless people who could get hypothermia as temperatures dip into the teens overnight. If you see someone in the D.C. area who needs shelter or warmer clothing, try one of the following numbers:
The District: 202-399-7093 Prince George's County, Maryland: 888-731-0999 Montgomery County, Maryland: 240-777-4000 Alexandria, Virginia: 703-548-7500 Arlington, Virginia: 703-228-1010 Falls Church, Virginia: 703-854-1400 Fairfax County, Virginia: 703-691-2131 In D.C., the general public may request assistance for individuals who are homeless by calling the shelter hotline or e-mailing email@example.com. Email reports should include the time when the person was seen, their specific location and a description of the person's appearance.
You can find a list of warming centers and emergency shelters for the homeless in Prince George's County online here.
19. Check School Closings
It's the time of year when schools begin to close for inclement weather! Check NBC Washington's list of school closures and delays for the latest on schedule changes.
20. Follow Storm Team 4
Follow the entire Storm Team 4 team on Facebook for the latest on weather conditions. Keeping up to date with the latest weather information is a great way to stay safe and help those around you. You can also sign up for weather alerts in the NBC Washington app.
This article was originally published in January 2015 and has been periodically updated.
Brooke Evans contributed to this report.
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