Winter survival guide

For Canadians, coping with winter cold and snow is a fact of life. Here are some strategies and tips so you can stay safe during the country's chilliest months.
Tom and Margaret Ervasti battle the cold wind and blowing snow on their weekend regular walk, Feb. 10, 2008, in London, Ont.. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

For Canadians, coping with winter cold and snow is a fact of life. Here are some tips to help you stay safe during the country's chilliest months.

Snow shovelling

Some tips to reduce the strain when shovelling snow: 

  • Choose a shovel that's right for you. A shovel with an appropriate length handle is correct when you can slightly bend your knees, flex your back 10 degrees or less, and hold the shovel comfortably in your hands at the start of the shovel stroke.   
  • When you grip the shovel, make sure your hands are at least 30 cm apart. This will increase your leverage and reduce strain on your body.   
  • Wait until the afternoon to shovel. Many disc problems occur in the morning when there is increased fluid pressure in the disc because the body has been at rest all night.  
  • Lift the snow properly. Squat with your legs apart, knees bent and back straight. Lift with your legs. Do not bend at the waist.
  • Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow. This will help prevent the low back from twisting.   
  • Tackle heavy snow in two stages. Begin by skimming off the snow from the top and then remove the bottom layer.   
  • Take frequent breaks when shovelling. Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.   
  • Dress warmly and make sure that your lower back is well covered. If your spine is exposed to the cold, your muscles can seize up and result in back pain.   
  • If you have a health problem or are not in good shape, do not even consider snow shovelling.

Source: Canadian Physiotherapy Association

More: Printable version (PDF)

Winter driving

Some tips to help you get to your winter driving destination safely:

  • Get your vehicle a winter check-up. Make sure your battery, belts, hoses, radiator, oil, lights, brakes exhaust system, heater, wipers and ignition system are in good working order.   

Survival kit

Having the necessary supplies can be a lifesaver should you become stranded in a storm.   

  • Ice scraper/snow brush  
  • Shovel  
  • Sand or other traction aid  
  • Tow rope or chain  
  • Booster cables  
  • Road flares or warning lights  
  • Gas line anti-freeze  
  • Flashlight and batteries  
  • First aid kit  
  • Fire extinguisher  
  • Small tool kit  
  • Extra clothing and footware  
  • Blanket  
  • Candle and a small tin can  
  • Matches  
  • Non-perishable energy foods like chocolate or granola bars, juice, instant coffee, tea, soup and bottled water  

Remember, if stranded in blizzard-like conditions overnight, make sure one person stays awake and keep your blood circulating by moving your feet, hands and arms.

  • Most importantly, make sure your tires have good tread and are appropriate for the weather in your neck of the woods. "All-season" tires may be good for some regions but snowbelt areas may want to consider winter tires.   
  • Be sure your washer fluid is topped up and good for -40°C temperatures.   
  • Check weather and travel conditions before setting out and allow extra travel time if road conditions are bad.   
  • Clear snow and ice from all windows, lights, mirrors and the roof and wait for the fog to clear from the inside windows to ensure good visibility. Turn your lights on if visibility is poor.   
  • Leave at least a four-second stopping distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you.   
  • Practise proper braking. Don't pump. Press down hard until the wheels start to lock, then release just enough pressure to let them roll again. Gradually increase the pressure and repeat until you come to a full stop.   
  • If stranded overnight, make sure one person stays awake and keep blood flowing by regularly moving your feet, hands and arms. Stay with your vehicle for warmth and safety and call for help. If you choose to dig yourself out, don't over exert, especially if you've got a medical condition.

Source: Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Canada Safety Council

More: Printable version (PDF)

Wind chill

Add a stiff breeze to a cold day, and the result can be — quite literally — freezing. The chart below shows the effects of wind chill.

How to read the chart

Example: If the air temperature is -10°C and the wind speed is 30 km/h, the chart shows that the temperature will feel like it is -20°C.

 Temperature   Wind speed   
  10 km/h20 km/h 30 km/h 40 km/h 50 km/h 100 km/h
 0°C -3 -5 -7 -7 -8 -11
 -5°C -9 -12 -13 -14 -15 -18
 -10°C -15 -18 -20 -21 -22 -25
 -15°C -21 -24 -26 -27 -29 -32
 -20°C -27 -31 -33 -34 -35 -40
 -30°C -39 -43 -46 -48 -49 -54
 -40°C -51 -56 -59 -61 -63 -69
 -50°C -63 -68 -72 -74 -76 -83