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Cold Emergency Declared Thru Sunday: Key Safety Tips and Resources for You

Last updated on February 2, 2023

With wind chills expected to be in negative double digit temperatures on Friday and Saturday, Mayor Michelle Wu declared a cold emergency in the city for Friday through Sunday.

Boston Public Schools cancelled school for Friday. and BCYF locations will be activated as warming centers on Friday and Saturday, but are not substitutes for childcare. A full list of locations and their hours can be found here.

“Boston is moving quickly to ensure that everyone is protected from the intense cold weather that will start Friday and last through the weekend. I want to thank the many city teams who have already begun preparations and will be responding to this weekend’s brutal cold weather,” said Wu. “I urge all Boston residents to take precautions, stay warm and safe, and check on your neighbors during this cold emergency.”

Residents are being advised to take precautions, including checking on older adults, people with disabilities and people experiencing homelessness. If you see people experiencing homelessness out in the cold, please call 911, said a press release. If residents are aware of anyone staying in a vehicle or a place not intended for living during these extreme cold temperatures, please also call 911 as well.

Residents can also visit the Boston Public Library Central or branch locations during their normal operating hours.

Key Safety Tips

Dress for the weather:

  • Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, residents are required to wear face coverings in all indoor public places
  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing
  • Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent
  • Wear mittens over gloves; layering works for your hands as well
  • Always wear a hat and cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs
  • Dress children warmly and set reasonable time limits on outdoor play
  • Restrict infants’ outdoor exposure when it is colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit

Watch for signs of frostbite:

  • Signs of frostbite include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.

Watch for signs of hypothermia:

  • These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If you or someone you know shows any of these symptoms, contact a healthcare provider immediately. If symptoms are severe, call 911.

Heating guidelines for property owners and tenants:

  • In accordance with the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code, the heating season officially begins on September 15 and runs through June 15. Property owners must heat habitable spaces at a minimum temperature of 68 degrees between 7 am and 11 pm and 64 degrees between 11:01 pm and 6:59 am.
  • In case of emergency, property owners are encouraged to keep a list of licensed contractors (electrician, plumber and general contractor) on file. Tenants experiencing problems with their heating system should check the thermostat, ensure the dial is turned on, and report insufficient or no heat problems to the property owner or manager immediately.
  • If your landlord or property manager is unresponsive, call 311 to file a complaint.

Heating safety:

  • Never heat your home using charcoal or gas grill, oven, or other products not specifically designed as a heater. These can cause a fire or produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide very quickly.
  • Have your heating system cleaned and checked annually.
  • Install and maintain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas produced whenever any fuel is burned. Common sources include oil or gas furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, stoves, and some space heaters. It has no smell, taste, or color. It is poisonous and can be deadly.
  • Carbon monoxide symptoms can be similar to other illnesses, including headache, dizziness, and weakness. If multiple people within a residence experience sudden onset of such symptoms, that can be a warning sign of possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Keep space heaters at least 3 feet from anything that can burn, including people.
  • Space heaters should be turned off and unplugged when you leave the room, or go to bed.

Tips to keep water flowing and pipes unfrozen during extreme cold:

  • The Boston Water and Sewer Commission recommends homeowners locate a home’s main water shut off valve, and learn how to use it. Should a frozen pipe burst, shutting the main valve quickly will minimize flooding and property damage.
  • Homeowners should insulate pipes in unheated areas like basements, garages and crawl spaces. Use inexpensive hardware store materials to prevent pipes from freezing and to keep warm water flowing.
  • Circulate warm air around pipes by keeping cabinet doors open. Circulate a trickle of tap water through pipes during extreme cold to help prevent them freezing up.
  • Locate your water meter, protect it from drafts, and make sure basement doors and windows are shut tight.
  • If pipes freeze, slowly thaw them with a hair dryer, if possible. Never use an open flame to thaw pipes. If water is lost in all taps, call BWSC 24-hour Emergency Assistance Line at 617-989-7900

Emergency home repair resources:

  • Income-eligible homeowners and Boston’s residents over age 60 can receive assistance with winter emergencies and repairs, such as fixing storm damage, leaking roofs, furnaces and leaking/frozen pipes. For assistance, residents should call the Mayor’s hotline at 311 or the Boston Home Center at 617-635-HOME (4663).
  • In addition, the Mayor’s Seniors Save program helps income eligible Bostonians over the age of 60 replace old, inefficient heating systems with a brand new heating system, even before a failure occurs during the cold winter months. Older adults can also call 311 or the Boston Home Center at 617-635-HOME (4663) to be connected with a city staffer to provide additional details.