Mayor Wu shares Boston’s winter weather preparations

The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) monitors forecasts and maintains open lines of communication with the National Weather Service.

Mayor Michelle Wu today joined City officials at the Public Works yard on Frontage Road to discuss winter preparations currently underway in the City of Boston, and resources available to residents, including older adults and individuals experiencing homelessness. 

“I am so grateful to the team from many departments and several different cabinets that come together to ensure that our streets will be safe and that our residents will be warm, supported and connected to everything that they need,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “As we continue to manage amidst a global pandemic, winter will be the next phase of how we’re supporting all of our residents.”

The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) monitors forecasts and maintains open lines of communication with the National Weather Service. OEM also works across City departments and with external partners to ensure coordinated response plans are in place. Residents can sign up to receive AlertBoston notifications by phone, text, or email in the event a snow emergency/parking ban is declared.

The Public Works Department (PWD) currently has 40,000 tons of salt on-hand to treat City streets. Along with 164 pieces of in-house snow clearing equipment, the PWD has the capability to place over 800 additional pieces on the roads during larger storms. As part of their neighborhood plowing operations during winter storms and to ensure the safety of riders following events, PWD allocates pieces of equipment to clear snow from Boston's dedicated bike lanes.

Rules on clearing snow:

  • Property owners must fully clear snow, sleet, and ice from sidewalks and curb ramps abutting the property within three hours after the snowfall ends or three hours after sunrise if the snow ends overnight. Curb and pedestrian ramps to the street should be cleared fully and continually over the duration of the storm to ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities. If a storm will last over an extended period of time, property owners are asked to continually check ramps abutting their property for compliance. 
  • Removal of snow, ice from private property to the street or sidewalk is prohibited. 
  • Failure to comply with the rules can result in fines issued by PWD's Code Enforcement Division. Fines associated with improper removal of snow can be found here.

Parking during a declared snow emergency:

  • If a snow emergency is declared, cars will be ticketed and towed if parked on a posted snow emergency artery. Space savers must be removed within 48 hours after a snow emergency has been lifted. Please note: space savers are NOT allowed in the South End.
  • During declared snow emergencies, discounted parking is available at some parking lots and garages for Boston residents. A list of discounted parking garages can be found here.

Trash and recycling: 

  • During severe snowstorms, recycling and trash collection may be canceled, but this is extremely rare. Most often, severe snowstorms can cause delays in service, so we ask for your cooperation and patience. To view your neighborhood recycling and trash schedule, locate a textile dropbox in your neighborhood, and to find out what items you CAN and CAN'T recycle, download our free Trash Day App.
  • Crews have a difficult time reaching trash barrels and recycling carts placed behind snowbanks. Please clear an area at the curb for collection or place containers next to or in front of snowbanks.

Caring for vulnerable populations:

  • If you see homeless and vulnerable individuals out in the cold who appear immobile, disoriented, or underdressed for the cold, please call 911.
  • The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) utilizes a city-wide network of emergency shelters, outreach providers, city agencies, and first responders to assist those in need of shelter.
  • Boston's emergency shelters are open 24 hours and will accept any person in need. Men can access shelter at the 112 Southampton Street Shelter, and women should go to the Woods-Mullen Shelter at 794 Massachusetts Ave. BPHC and the City work closely with shelter providers in the city to ensure that no client is without shelter, food, resources, and a warm respite from the cold.
  • Monday through Friday, 8am-9pm, please call 617-534-4440 to facilitate access to shelters. Outside of these hours, guests should access shelter directly.
  • During extreme cold weather, street outreach teams operate with extended hours and provide mobile outreach vans on the streets in the evening and throughout the day.

Safety tips:

  • If you are able, keep catch basins and fire hydrants clear of snow and debris. This will help prevent flooding and allow for access in the event of an emergency. For a map of catch basins and fire hydrants, visit here.
  • Shoveling snow requires significant exertion; please be cautious and pay attention to symptoms. Stop if you feel chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nauseous/vomiting. Call 911 if those symptoms do not resolve quickly.
  • Snow piles can make navigating intersections dangerous for walkers and drivers. Please take extra care when turning corners with snow piles that might limit visibility.
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning is a concern during winter weather, especially with the use of generators. Residents should use their home heating systems wisely and safely and have a working carbon monoxide detector on each floor of the home. Call 911 immediately if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Sitting in a car while idling can be deadly if the tailpipe is blocked. Do not let children sit in an idling car while shoveling. Clear any household exhaust pipes of snow like gas exhaust from the heating system or dryer.
  • Have a contractor check the roof to see if snow needs to be removed. If roof snow can be removed from the ground with the use of a snow-rake, do so with caution. Avoid working from ladders and be mindful of slippery surfaces.

Dress for the weather:

  • 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 a 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, get in touch with 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° between 7 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. and 64° between 11:01 p.m. and 6:59 a.m.
  • In cases 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, contact the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) at (617) 635-5300 to file a complaint, or call 311.  

Heating safety:

  • Never try to heat your home using a charcoal or gas grill, the kitchen stove, or other product 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.
  • Make sure all vents are clear of snow or any other debris.
  • Install and maintain smoke alarms 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 a poison and is deadly.

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 from freezing up.
  • Locate your water meter, protect it from drafts, and make sure basement doors and windows are shut tight.
  • If pipes do freeze, slow thaw with a hairdryer. Never use an open flame to thaw pipes. If water is lost in all taps, call BWSC 24-hour Emergency Assistance Line at 617-989-7000.

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).   
  • Never use a torch to thaw a frozen pipe. Always call a professional plumber to troubleshoot your problem.
  • A grant is available for income-eligible homeowners over age 60 to ease unexpected financial burdens caused by an emergency situation with their home.
  • 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 catastrophic 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.   

Tips to increase home energy efficiency: 

  • Disconnect the water hose from the home.
  • Wrap or cover exposed spigots.
  • Caulk or putty windows.
  • Ensure kitchen and bathroom dampers close properly.
  • Close all storm windows and doors.
  • Apply weather stripping.
  • Properly insulate all pipes that are exposed.
  • Install insulated or heavy drapes to keep cold drafts from coming in.
  • Don't forget to close the damper to the wood-burning fireplace after each use. Consider a chimney balloon if you don't have a damper.
  • For more energy efficiency tips for your home, call Renew Boston at 617-635-SAVE (7283).

Tips for what to do before a power outage:

  • Before a weather event, prepare your home by:
    • Ensuring that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and have fresh batteries.
    • Consider purchasing a generator to provide power during an outage. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and learn how to use it safely before an outage.
    • Ensuring that you have sufficient heating fuel. Consider safe backup heating options such as fireplaces or woodstoves.
    • Have a landline phone with a corded receiver.
    • Fully charge your cell phone, laptop, and other electronic devices.
    • If you have a water supply (such as a well-water pump system) that could be affected by a power outage, fill your bathtub and spare containers with water. The water in the bathtub should be used for sanitation purposes only. You can pour a bucket of this water directly into the toilet bowl to flush it.
    • Keep your car’s gas tank full. Pumps at gas stations may not work during a power outage.
    • Set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings to keep food cold (but remember to reset them back to normal once power is restored).
  • If you have life-support devices, such as home dialysis or breathing machines, or other medical equipment or supplies, that depend on electricity:
    • Talk to your health care provider about how to use them during a power outage;
    • Contact your local electric company and equipment suppliers about your power needs. Some utility companies will put you on a "priority reconnection service" list;
    • Let the fire department know that you are dependent on life-support devices; and
    • If you have medication that requires refrigeration, check with your pharmacist for guidance on proper storage during an extended outage.

Tips for what to do during a Power Outage:

  • Continue to monitor the media for emergency information.
  • Follow instructions from public safety officials.
  • Call 9-1-1 to report emergencies including:
    • Downed power lines; or
    • If you are dependent on equipment that requires electricity and needs medical assistance.
  • Call your utility company to report power outages and get restoration information.
  • Stay away from downed utility wires. Always assume a downed power line is live.
  • If a traffic light is out, treat the intersection as a four-way stop.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Use generators and grills outside because their fumes contain carbon monoxide. Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are working as it is a silent, odorless, killer. See more Generator Safety Tips. 
  • If possible, use flashlights instead of candles. If you must use candles, place them in safe holders away from anything that could catch fire. Never leave a burning candle unattended. Never go to sleep with candles burning.
  • During hot weather, use ice to help keep food cold. During cold weather, keep food cold outside in a secure location safe from animals.
  • If phone lines are down, use social media or texting to let others know you are okay.
  • Unplug sensitive electronics to avoid power surges when power is restored.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed. An unopened refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions, and those who may need additional assistance.

Tips for Driving in a winter storm:

  • Avoid driving during the worst part of the storm. If possible, only travel during daylight hours, don't travel alone, and stay on main roads instead of taking shortcuts.
  • Consider taking public transportation.
  • Clear snow and ice from windows, lights, hood, and the roof before driving.
  • Leave plenty of room for stopping.
  • Don't try to out drive the conditions. Remember the posted speed limits are for dry pavement.
  • Know the current road conditions. Call 511 from your cell phone or the following from either your cell phone or landline phone.
    • Metro Boston: (617) 986-5511
  • Brake early and correctly. It takes more time and distance to stop in adverse conditions.
  • Be wary of bridge decks. They freeze first, making them more dangerous than the approach road.
  • Exit ramps sometimes have less anti-icing material than the mainline. Be aware of this when exiting the highway.
  • Don't use "cruise control" driving in wintry conditions. Even roads that look clear can have sudden slippery spots. Using your brake on these spots will deactivate cruise control, possibly causing you to lose control of your vehicle.
  • Many 4x4 vehicles are heavier than passenger vehicles. This means it takes longer to stop than passenger vehicles. Be wary of your 4x4 vehicle's traction.
  • Look further ahead in traffic than normal.
  • Trucks are heavier than cars, making their brake time slower. Avoid cutting quickly in front of them.
  • Don't crowd the plow. Leave room for maintenance vehicles and plows. Stay back at least 200 feet and don't pass on the right.
  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Let others know your destination, route, and expected travel times.
  • Allow for extra travel time.
  • Drive with your headlights on at all times to see and be seen.

For more information, please visit the Winter in Boston guide and follow @CityofBoston on Twitter. 

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