Severe Weather

Weather is always changing and can reach  extremes that can affect your safety if you don’t take the proper precautions. Temperature fluctuations, heavy rain, lightning, and winter blizzards and ice storms  happen every year in the region.  Get informed and be prepared for these naturally occurring weather events.

Before severe weather
Extreme cold

Winter weather conditions in Waterloo Region can include snow, hail, freezing rain and extreme cold.

Extreme cold over a long period of time can be very dangerous. Take extra precautions with children and pets as they can become colder, faster. In cases with prolonged power outages find warming centres to stay warm. 

Do:

  • Wear layers of warm clothing.
  • If you must travel - let people know where you are going.
  • Keep nourished with food and drink.
  • If stranded in a vehicle, run motor every ten minutes for heat and open window occasionally for fresh air.
  • Tie a bright cloth to car for visibility.

Don't:

  • Don't go outside or drive.
  • Don't walk home if you have car problems, stay with your car.

Did you know?

During the winter season, you should stock up on heating fuel, ready-to-eat food, battery-operated flashlights and have a radio with extra batteries.

Winter storms

Severe winter storms can cause widespread damage and disruption (see also Power Outage). Heavy snow often results in dangerous road conditions and increased collisions due to slippery roads and stranded vehicles. Extreme cold, intense wind and heavy snow conditions can isolate entire communities. Bitter cold and severe winter storms kill more than 100 people in Canada every year. That is more than the number of Canadians killed by tornadoes, thunderstorms, lightning, floods, hurricanes and heat waves combined.

In Waterloo Region, ice storms are often winter's worst hazard. The severity of ice storms depends on the accumulation of ice, the duration of the event, the location and extent of the area affected. Ice can bring down power lines, tree limbs and sometimes even fully uproot  trees, making repairs on utilities difficult.

During a blizzard, piercing winds blow snow into drifts that can bury people, animals and possessions. The  accumulation of snow  can also cause  structures to collapse. In the later stages of a blizzard whiteout conditions can happen. During a whiteout the snowfall is so dense that it is hard to tell the ground from the sky.

If you are indoors:

  • Stay indoors. Only travel when absolutely necessary.
  • When going outside, make sure that you have proper clothing to protect you from the elements. A heavy coat, gloves, boots and a hat are a must.
  • It is easier to keep a smaller space warm. During an ice storm, consider closing off some non-essential rooms.
  • Listen for radio and television broadcasts of storm warnings.

If you are outdoors:

  • If you have to go outdoors, prepare yourself against the cold and find shelter as soon as possible.
  • Several lightweight layers give more warmth than a single heavy coat. Try thermal underwear, a turtleneck, a medium sweater, and a jacket.
  • Wear a hat to prevent heat loss. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs. Wear gloves and hiking or snow boots.
  • Always tell someone where you are going, how you are getting there, and when you think you will arrive. This way, someone will know where you might be if you are stranded.

If you are in a vehicle:

  • Travel can be dangerous during a severe storm.
  • Keep spare hats, scarfs and blankets in your vehicle. Having some dried food is also advised.
  • If you hear news of a blizzard warning, find shelter as soon as possible.
  • If you are stuck in your car, stay with the vehicle.
  • Provide a signal to rescuers such as a bright cloth tied onto the vehicle.
  • Keep the window open a crack for fresh air.
  • Stay warm by moving your arms and legs, keeping the blood flowing.
  • Start the car engine once every hour, and use the heater for 10 minutes.
  • When the engine is running, leave the dome light on.
  • Keep the exhaust pipe clear so that vehicle exhaust fumes can escape.
  • Always tell someone where you are going, how you are getting there, and when you think you will arrive.

Protect Your Home This Winter

  • Use a broom to sweep your gas equipment free of snow and ice. Never kick or hit your gas meter, pressure regulator, or piping to free up snow or ice buildup.
  • Keep all your exhaust and intake vents clear.
  • Keep a clear path to your gas meter.
  • Do not shovel, blow, or plow snow up against your gas meter equipment.
  • If there is a fire hydrant near your home, make sure the hydrant is clear and accessible in case there is an emergency.
  • Remove icicles from your overhead eaves trough and watch for buildup of freezing rain or water dripping from the roof or eaves trough onto your meter.
  • In extremely cold weather, water pipes can burst. To help prevent pipes from bursting, it is recommended to leave taps to drip slowly and increase the temperature within the home over night.

Winter driving safety

  • When driving in winter months, it is critical to stay alert, slow down and stay in control - drive according to the weather and road conditions. Be aware of other vehicles around you, maintain a safe following distance.
  •  At the start of the season, consider a winter tune-up for your vehicle, including having your tires checked for roadworthiness.

During winter storms stay off the road unless it is absolutely necessary that you drive. If you have to drive, take the right steps to prepare for your trip:

  • Clear the snow and ice from your vehicle - windows, lights, mirrors and the roof.
  • Once you start your vehicle, wait for the fog to clear from the inside of the windows to ensure visibility all around.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that doesn't restrict your movement while driving.
  • Plan your route ahead of time. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to arrive. Allow extra time for travel.

 When Driving

  • It takes longer to stop on slippery or icy roads. Leave extra space between your vehicle and the vehicle ahead. 
  • Look far ahead to observe road conditions and adjust your driving according to conditions.
  • Certain sections of road (bridges, overpasses, shaded areas) will freeze much sooner in cold weather and stay frozen longer. Watch out for icy patches on the road, areas that appear black and shiny.
  • Turn on your vehicle's full lighting system.

If you Experience Car Trouble - Stay in your Vehicle

  • Keep spare hats, scarfs and blankets in your vehicle.  Having some dried food is also advised.
  • Run the motor every ten minutes for heat and open a window occasionally for fresh air.  
  • Tie a bright cloth to your car, or clamp it in your window for visibility.
  • If you have to get out of your vehicle, be careful of traffic.
  • Keep your body warm by moving your feet, hands and arms.
  • Do not attempt to walk home if you have car problems.  Winter conditions can change quickly, and you may become disoriented and unable to find your way in blowing snow.

Your gas tank should always be at least half full.  Yes that means more trips to the gas station.  It also means that if you are ever stuck in traffic or stranded in snowy weather, you know you have at least half a tank of gas to eventually get you where you are going.

Extreme heat

Staying cool is important during the summer, especially when temperatures rise above normal. Hot weather is common during the summer months in Waterloo Region. Exposure to heat and humidity can be hazardous to health and potentially life-threatening. 

Anyone can be affected by extreme heat-related weather conditions. Risks are higher for:

  • Older adults (over the age of 65)
  • Infants and young children
  • Outdoor workers
  • People planning outdoor sports or activities
  • People with chronic illness
  • People experiencing homelessness

What is a humidex?

Extreme heat and humidity are expressed as a humidex.

The humidex combines both temperature and humidity to reflect how hot it feels. The more humidity, the warmer the temperature feels.

Prolonged exposure to heat can be hazardous to your health. Seniors and young children are particularly at risk. Check in on friends and family who you feel are vulnerable.

Do:

  • Drink a lot of fluids - especially water
  • Stay indoors
  • Wear lightweight, light-coloured clothing
  • Keep pets indoors or where it is cool, keep their water dishes full at all times

Don't:

  • Don't do strenuous activity - do not run, bike or do yard work when it is extremely hot outside
  • Don't drink alcoholic or high-caffeine drinks
  • Don't eat high-protein foods
Storms and high winds

Storms can bring a flurry of hazards including heavy rain, high winds, and lightning. They can vary in intensity and pose risks to safety and can cause major property damage. Heavy rains can lead to flooding. High winds are a risk on their own but can also form tornados. Every year, lightning kills approximately 10 Canadians and injures approximately 100 to 150 others.

Tornados

Tornados are high-speed winds that can cause damage, injury or even death. They often appear with dark clouds and are followed by severe thunderstorms and rain.

Do:

  • Close all windows and doors, secure any loose objects.
  • If in a house, go to the basement.
  • If in an apartment, go to the smallest room.
  • If in a car or outside, if time permits go to the nearest solid shelter.  If not take cover in a low lying area such as a ditch and protect your head.  Beware of flooding and downpours and be prepared to move.

Don't:

  • Don't go near windows or doors.
  • Don't stand near hydro poles or trees.
  • Don't go outside.
  • Don't touch any electrical appliances. 

If you are outdoors:

  • Don't wait until you see the tornado to get inside.
  • If you can't get inside, lie flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
  • Don't go under an overpass or bridge - you're safer in a low, flat area.
  • Assume all downed power lines are live and stay back at least 10 meters.

If you are in a vehicle or mobile home:

  • Go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately. Mobile homes do not offer much protection from tornadoes.

Thunderstorms bring a wide range of threats. These include hail, lightning, strong winds and heavy rainfall. All of these hazards can result in property damage, injuries or fatalities. React immediately when you first see lightning, hear thunder or are given some other warning. There are a few simple precautions that you can take to protect yourself.

If you are indoors:

  • If you are in a building, stay inside.
  • Large hailstones can shatter windows, so stay away from windows, skylights and doors.
  • Unplug televisions, radios, toasters and other electrical appliances.
  • Do not use the phone during the storm, and do not contact metal objects like radiators, stoves, metal pipes, sinks or other potential conductors of electricity.
  • If the storm is safe distance away, close your drapes, blinds or window shades to prevent the wind from blowing broken glass inside, and consider unplugging televisions and other electrical appliances that do not have surge protectors.

If you are outdoors:

  • Move immediately to a place of shelter. Go to a building or vehicle. Large enclosed structures tend to be much safer than smaller open structures.
  • Avoid water, high ground, isolated trees, picnic shelters and open spaces.
  • If lightning strikes when you are outside, crouch down and put your feet together. Minimize your contact with the ground, or lie down in a tight curled up position.
  • Keep away from telephone and power lines, fences, trees and hilltops.
  • Get off bicycles, motorcycles, golf carts and tractors.

If you are in a vehicle:

  • Stop the car safely at the side of the road and stay there.
  • Completely close all windows.
  • Do not park near power line or trees which could fall on your vehicle.

Lightning

If you hear thunder you are within striking distance of lightning. Take shelter immediately and consider these actions to protect yourself:

  • Good places to take shelter include an automobile (with a metal roof), or a grounded building such as a house. Stay sheltered for 30 minutes after the last flash of lightning.
  • While indoors, refrain from using, and preferably unplug electronic equipment such as televisions and computers, as well as appliances, (corded) power tools, or (corded) telephones. Refrain from bathing, showering or washing dishes.
  • If caught outdoors during a thunderstorm, stay away from tall objects such as trees, or any objects or structures that conduct electricity, including metal fences, golf clubs, lawnmowers, bicycles, or umbrellas. Avoid bodies of water.
  • Avoid being the highest point in an open area. Low-lying areas are preferable to hillsides.
  • If lightning strikes nearby (for example if 30 or fewer seconds elapse between the flash of lightning and the thunderclap) when you are outdoors with no suitable place to take shelter, crouch down, putting your feet together with the heels touching, and your hands over your ears to protect against hearing damage.

If caught outdoors:

  • Avoid putting yourself above the surrounding landscape. Seek shelter in low-lying areas such as valleys, ditches and depressions but be aware of flooding.
  • Stay away from water. Don't go boating or swimming if a storm threatens, and get to land as quickly as possible if you are already on the water. Lightning can strike the water and travel a substantial distance from its point of contact.
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity, such as tractors, golf carts, golf clubs, metal fences, motorcycles, lawnmowers and bicycles.
  • Avoid being the highest point in an open area. Swinging a golf club, or holding an umbrella or fishing rod can make you the tallest object and a target for lightning.
  • You are safe inside a car during lightning, but be aware of downed power lines which may be touching your car. You are safe inside the car, but you may receive a shock if you step outside.
  • In a forest, seek shelter in a low-lying area under a thick growth of small trees or bushes.
  • Keep alert for flash floods, sometimes caused by heavy rainfall, if seeking shelter in a ditch or low-lying area.

Indoor precautions:

  • Before the storm hits, disconnect electrical appliances including computers, radios and television sets. Do not touch them during the storm.
  • Don't go outside unless absolutely necessary.
  • Keep as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Stay away from windows.
  • Use battery operated or cordless devices only. The electrical current from the lightning strike will travel through wires and cords using the path of least resistance. Electrical current will follow metal pipes and wires until it reaches the ground (or you, if you are connected through them).
  • Working on a plugged in computer, or holding a phone or other devices when they're charging are unsafe practices that should be avoided during lightning storms. Cordless telephones are safe; however you could hear a very loud noise on the phone. This would be consistent with your house or somewhere nearby being struck by lightning.
  • Delay taking a shower, doing laundry, or washing the dishes by hand during a thunderstorm because water is an electrical conductor. If lightning strikes your house or nearby, the lightning charge may travel through the pipes and you could be hurt.

Information on this page was a compilation of various sources mentioned below.

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