Climate change is causing more rain in the winter in Oregon, which can lead to flooding or ice storms. Winter storms can bring unexpected power outages, business shutdowns and changes to your commute. It’s never too early to get ready for winter weather.
Below are resources to help you prepare for dealing with cold weather, including energy bill assistance and tips for heating your home efficiently. Above all else, community is critical to preventing illness and death in the face of climate change. When it’s extremely cold, be sure to check on your friends, family, and neighbors and share these resources with them.
Find a place to stay warm
Stay warm inside
Stay inside as much as possible. If you have to be outside, take frequent breaks indoors in warm areas and dress appropriately to ensure you stay warm.
If you go outside
- Protect the ears, face, hands and feet. Wear:
- A hat
- A scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
- Sleeves that are snug at the wrist
- Mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
- Water-resistant coat
- Waterproof and insulated boots or shoes
- Layers of clothing provide better insulation. Layers can also be removed if you become too hot.
- Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce loss of body heat caused by wind.When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.
- Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton.
- Stay dry.Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess sweat will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.
- Move into warm locations periodically. Limit the amount of time outside on extremely cold days.
- Move around. Physical activity raises body temperature.
- Do not ignore shivering. It's an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
- Alcoholic beverages cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.
Know the signs of hypothermia
If your temperature is below 95°, the situation is an emergency. Get medical attention immediately.
Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can retain heat. This can create a dangerously low body temperature. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors. Watch for signs of hypothermia, including:
- Uncontrollable shivering
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
You may not know you have hypothermia.Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat.
Getting treatment for someone with hypothermia
If medical attention is not available:
- Get them into a warm place as soon as possible.
- Remove any wet clothing.
- Warm the center of the body first — chest, neck, head and groin — using an electric blanket or skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets.
- After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible.
- Give the person hot beverages or food.
- Warm the person too quickly, like in hot bath or in front of a heater.
- Warm the arms and legs first; this can cause stress on the heart and lungs.
- Give alcoholic beverages.
Know the signs of frostbite
Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors. Signs of frostbite can include:
- White or grayish-yellow colored skin
- Firm or waxy skin
People with frostbite are often unaware until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin — frostbite may be setting in.
Getting treatment for someone with frostbite
If medical attention is not available:
- If they are experiencing signs of hypothermia, treat those symptoms first.
- Get them to a warm place as soon as possible..
- Immerse the affected area in warm — not hot — water. The temperature should be comfortable to the touch for the unaffected parts of the body.Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
- Seek medical care as soon as possible.
- Walk on frostbitten feet or toes unless absolutely necessary,as this can cause more damage.
- Massage the frostbitten areas, as this can cause more damage.
- Use heating pads, lamps, stoves, fireplaces, or other heaters for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.
- Have your heating system, water heater,and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a technician every year.
- Do not use your oven for heat or bring charcoal or gas grills indoors. They are a carbon monoxide hazard.
- Don't place electric space heaters near curtains or other flammable materials. Turn them off before you go to bed.
- Make sure all portable heat-producing appliances are unplugged when they are not in use.
- Never leave candles unattended. Avoid burning candles indoors for long periods of time.
- Keep dryer vents clear of snow and ice.
Be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
This odorless, tasteless and colorless gas is created when fuel is burned.Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death. If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, seek fresh air and consult a health care professional right away.
Common sources of carbon monoxide include:
- Space heaters
- Fireplaces and ovens
- Cars and trucks
- Clothes dryers
- Gas and oil heating systems
How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Install and maintain a carbon monoxide detector in your home.
- 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.
- Do not leave windows open near running cars or trucks.
- Be 2 Weeks Ready– Gather food, medical supplies, batteries, pet supplies, among other things, needed by family members during an outage or evacuation for up to two weeks.
- Keep cell phones fully charged in anticipation of an outage. Get a car charger for cell phones and other electronics.
- Keep vehicle gas tanks at least half full, as power outages may impact fuel pumps at gas stations.
- Make sure your utility service provider has current contact information for notifications by updating your account online.
- For individuals with a medical condition that requires power, contact your service provider in advance of an outage to register a Medical Certificate. The utilities work to contact vulnerable customers, including those with medical certificates, in the event of an outage or power surge. Also, consider a backup generator or alternative location for power needs.
During a power outage
- Contact your electric utility service provider to inform them of an outage.
- Avoid downed power lines at all costs and stay clear of utility crews working to restore service in your community.
- Use flashlights or battery-operated lanterns for emergency lighting. Do not use candles or other potential fire hazards.
- Turn off lights and unplug electric appliances except for the refrigerator and freezer to help avoid a surge to the system when service is restored. Leave one light on so you know when power has been restored.
- Do not run a generator inside the home or garage or anywhere near a window or vent, as these spaces can capture deadly levels of carbon monoxide. Learn more about proper use of a generator to avoid hazardous conditions.
- Check on older neighbors or anyone who might need additional assistance.
Natural gas tips during a power outage or evacuation
- If required to evacuate, you do not need to shut off your natural gas.
- If your natural gas appliances do not operate properly once power is restored, call your natural gas service provider.
- If natural gas service is shut off, do not turn it back on yourself. Call your natural gas service provider to restore service.
- If you smell natural gas, evacuate immediately and call 911.
- The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) includes bill payment assistance, energy education, case management and home weatherization services.
- The Oregon Energy Assistance Program (OEAP) is a low-income electric bill payment assistance program for customers of Pacific Power and Portland General Electric.
- Get up to 25% off your monthly electric bill through Portland General Electric's (PGE) Income Qualified Bill Discount Program.
- The Oregon Energy Fund (OEF) provides funds for energy assistance to more than 30 nonprofits that distribute to community members in need.
You want to be sure your home is staying warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Weatherizing your home involves finding areas where warm or cold air may be lost, like windows, doors and vents, and then improving them. The following organizations provide free or low-cost weatherization assistance to low-income households.
- Community Action
- The Low Income Weatherization Program provides weatherization and energy conservation services at no cost to households at or below 200% of federal poverty income level.
- Through Energy Trust, landlords can receive up to $250,000 a year in cash incentives for increasing energy efficiency and weatherization at multifamily properties they manage.
Cooling and heating support
- See if you are eligible to receive a free air conditioning unit through Care Oregon or Oregon Health Authority.
- Trillium's Flexible Services Program provides items and services to patients that benefit your health but might not be covered through traditional medical billing. Visit their webpages to learn how you can apply for heating and cooling support through their Flexible Services Program.
- Rebates are available for the installation of heat pumps, both renters and homeowners (link coming soon) can be eligible. Rebate amounts are based on income and efficiency of the heat pump installed.
- Washington County is offering rebates of $1,500-$4,000 when you replace your old wood stove with a new stove, insert or other heating system. Some households will qualify for a full-cost replacement. We also have the occasional wood stove turn-in event where you can get paid to bring in your old wood stove. See if you are eligible to replace your old wood stove through the Woodstove Exchange Program.
Cooling and heating incentives for landlords
- Energy Trust of Oregon offers reimbursement of ductless heat pumps and other select cooling devices for landlords managing multifamily housing.
- Landlords who participate in the Landlord Provided Cooling Spaces Program through Energy Trust of Oregon can be reimbursed for installing cooling devices on approved multifamily or manufactured properties.
HHS Climate and Health Team