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Cold weather safety tips

We want all residents to stay safe during extreme cold weather. Our public safety agencies put together a comprehensive set of safety tips for the winter season.

When you know severely cold weather is coming, remember to take steps to prepare. Please also check on older adults, people with disabilities, and people experiencing homelessness, and take caution when using portable heating devices like space heaters.

Keep in mind

If you have an emergency situation, please dial 911.

If you lose power

Reporting Power outages

Please call your utility company to report any outages. You can also call 311 with any concerns or questions.

Eversouce: 1-800-592-2000
National Grid: 1-800-322-3223
Boston Water & Sewer Commission: 617-989-7000

More important numbers

Warming Centers

When the Mayor declares a winter weather emergency, we make BCYF Community Centers available as warming centers. How many centers we open up depends on the need.

Because the BCYF Warming Center list changes, please call 311 for updates on which centers are open during emergencies.

To prepare for power outages, stock up on batteries, flashlights, and canned goods. Make sure to have a battery-operated radio, extra medicine, blankets, and bottled water on hand.

If you lose power, unplug all your appliances except one lamp to prevent power surge damage. Keep refrigerators closed as much as possible. Food will stay fresh for about 36-48 hours in a full fridge and only 24 hours in a half-filled one.

Personal safety

What to wear

When it’s cold outside, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Make sure your outer layer is tightly woven and windproof. Remember to wear clothing like sweaters, boots, hats, gloves, and scarves. Wool clothing keeps you warmer than cotton when it’s damp or wet.

Put mittens over your gloves – layering also works for your hands. You should also wear a hat and cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.

Keep your family safe

When it’s colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit, don’t leave infants outdoors for long periods of time. Dress your children in warm, bright colors, and set time limits for outdoor play.

Remember to check on elderly family and neighbors. Make sure your elderly family and neighbors have enough heat and food. Tell them to avoid shoveling, especially if they have a heart condition.

Help your pets stay warm by keeping them indoors. They suffer in the cold just like humans.

Winter games and sports

Don’t ski, ice skate, snowboard, or sled alone. If your children do ski, sled, snowboard, or play hockey, make sure they wear a helmet.

Teach your children to sled in areas that are free of obstacles and away from the street. Make sure children use sleds that they can steer, and don’t let them lie flat when they sled downhill. Never overload a sled with children.

Only skate in areas approved for skating. Teach your children to skate in the same direction as the crowd to avoid crashes. If you or your children want to ski, please enroll in at least one lesson.

When you spend time outdoors

Don’t stay out in the cold too long. If you have to stay out in the cold for work, be sure to take frequent breaks where it is warm.

Try to avoid getting wet. Moisture can be very dangerous, and speed up hypothermia. If you expect to get wet, keep a dry set of clothing nearby – especially a hat, gloves, socks, and boots.

Don’t drink anything with caffeine in it. Dehydration occurs more quickly in cold, dry weather. Be sure to keep yourself hydrated, especially if you are doing a physical activity outdoors.

Frostbite and hypothermia

Make sure to cover exposed skin and watch out for frostbite. In extreme cold, frostbite can happen in under a minute. Wind also increases the risk of frostbite.

The symptoms of frostbite include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in areas like your:

  • fingers
  • toes
  • ear lobes, and
  • the tip of the nose.

Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can retain heat. This can create a dangerously low body temperature. Watch for signs of hypothermia, including:

  • uncontrollable shivering
  • memory loss
  • disorientation
  • slurred speech
  • drowsiness, and
  • apparent exhaustion.
Treating someone with Hypothermia

If you suspect that a person is suffering from hypothermia, don’t give hot drinks or hot food. First, raise their legs or place hot water bottles on feet. Please do not:

  • place the person in a hot shower or bath
  • give them any alcohol or drugs, or
  • massage the arms or legs.

In an emergency, call 911. Handle the person very gently and protect them from the cold with blankets, quilts, towels, or extra clothes. Make sure the person’s head and neck are covered.

Other things to keep in mind
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol can speed up and worsen the effects of hypothermia.
  • Keep moving. Your body generates its own heat, so moving will help keep you warm.
  • Don’t put any physical strain on yourself, especially when you shovel. Cold weather can make an underlying respiratory illness worse. Be careful about exerting yourself in extreme cold.
  • Stretch before going outside to shovel and take frequent breaks from shoveling, even if only for a couple of minutes.
  • Use a smaller shovel and make sure your shovel isn’t bent, tilting, or damaged.

Multilingual fact sheets

Long periods of cold weather affect people differently, and they can have different effects on a person’s health. The Office of Public Health Preparedness at the Boston Public Health Commission developed a series of fact sheets for residents. The fact sheets below have been translated into the 10 most commonly spoken languages in Boston.

Download facts sheets

Keep your home safe

When you prepare for the storm, remember to create a family emergency plan. You should also install and maintain smoke alarms on every level of your home. Replace the batteries in your smoke detectors when you adjust your clock for Daylight Saving Time. If the smoke detector goes off, leave your home right away and call 911. 

Heating your home

Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a technician every year. Make sure you have enough oil to get through a snowstorm.

NEVER use your oven for heat and NEVER bring charcoal or gas grills indoors. They are a carbon monoxide hazard. Liquid or gas-fired portable space heaters are illegal in Massachusetts.

Other heating tips
  • Don't place electric space heaters near curtains or other flammable materials. Turn them off before you go to bed.
  • Never leave candles unattended.
  • Make sure all portable heat-producing appliances are unplugged when they are not in use.
  • Keep dryer vents clear of snow and ice.
Preventing frozen pipes

Keep your heat at a normal level or leave your faucets open with a slight drip to prevent your pipes from freezing. Check for open windows, air vents, and wind drafts near water pipes. Seal leaks in the basement foundation where cold air may enter.

Locate the main water shut off valve in your home and mark it so you can find it quickly. If a water pipe bursts, shutting the valve will minimize damage. You should also protect your water meter from icy drafts and freezing temperatures. 

Leave kitchen and sink cabinet doors open if the pipes behind the doors can freeze. This allows heat to reach the pipes. Make sure to insulate pipes in unheated spaces like garages, basements, and crawl spaces.

If your pipes get frozen

Don’t use an open flame to thaw pipes. If your pipes do freeze, use a hair dryer or rags soaked in hot water to thaw lines.

When your pipes are frozen, there is often water available in at least one faucet. If there is no water coming through any of your taps, there may be a problem in your street or yard. Call the Boston Water and Sewer Commission's 24-hour Emergency Assistance line at 617-989-7000.

When using a snow blower

Always start your snow blower in a well-ventilated area to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure your snow blower is turned off before replacing parts. If your snow blower becomes clogged, turn it off, and remove the key before trying to clear it. Use a stick and NOT your hands to clear debris.

If your snow blower hasn’t been checked by a professional in a while, get it serviced.

Don’t forget to shovel

If you own your property, please remember to shovel your driveway and the sidewalks next to your property. We hold businesses and property owners responsible for shoveling. Rock salt can also add traction to the ground to avoid slips and falls.

Learn more about snow removal

Carbon monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?

The odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas is created when fuel is burned. Carbon monoxide prevents your body from using oxygen. This can lead to damage to your heart, brain, and other organs. The gas can emit from:

  • oil or gas furnaces
  • water heaters
  • fireplaces and stoves
  • some space heaters, and
  • cars and trucks running in enclosed areas.

Make sure to install and maintain a carbon monoxide detectorNicole’s Law requires all homes and apartments with a potential source of the gas to have a working alarm installed in each apartment, and on each occupied floor.

Carbon Monoxide poisoning

Every year, thousands of people are killed or seriously injured from breathing in carbon monoxide. People often don’t realize they’re exposed until they are seriously ill. Common early symptoms of poisoning are:

  • fatigue (feeling drowsy)
  • confusion
  • headaches
  • dizziness, and
  • nausea.

If you think you or someone you know has been poisoned by carbon monoxide, call 911. You should also leave your home call 911 if your carbon monoxide detector goes off in your home.

Sources of carbon monoxide

Make sure your gas and oil appliances and heating systems are installed properly, working well, and regularly service. If they are not, they can become sources of carbon monoxide exposure. The owner of a building is responsible for servicing and maintaining its heating system.

Winter is a dangerous time for poisoning. Make sure the exhaust pipe on your car is clear of snow, as well as your house's heater vent.

Common sources of carbon monoxide include:
  • space heaters
  • fireplaces and ovens
  • cars and trucks
  • clothing dryers, and
  • gas and oil heating systems.
Other carbon monoxide tips
  • Replace your carbon monoxide detector's batteries when you adjust your clock for Daylight Saving Time.
  • Never operate any combustion engine indoors, even if you leave the door open.
  • Do not warm your car up in a garage with the door closed. Make sure your tailpipe isn’t blocked by snow or debris when you start your car.
  • Never leave a child or pet in a car with the motor running.
  • Don’t have windows open near running cars or trucks.
  • The Boston Public Health Commission has more information on carbon monoxide safety.

Help for the unhoused

Extreme cold weather and winter storms can put those experiencing homelessness at risk. During these times, please put the safety of your vulnerable neighbors first. For any medical or safety emergency, call 9‐1‐1.

A network of City agencies, homeless shelters, outreach teams, and community partners provides help for our unhoused neighbors during the winter.

Learn more about resources

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