Cold Weather

Ottawa is one of the coldest capitals in the world


Ottawa is one of the coldest winter capitals in the world, and with this come both opportunities to enjoy winter activities and landscapes, and risks associated with cold temperatures including frostbite, hypothermia, slips and falls and even death. With proper preparation, however, everyone can enjoy all that Ottawa offers without worrying about getting too cold! 

The City of Ottawa has a plan to respond to the needs of people who are experiencing homelessness associated with extreme cold weather and provide resources and information for everyone to stay safe in winter. Cold weather response and outreach services are  organized in partnership with a network of community agencies and groups that provide relevant services.

We encourage you to check the weather everyday and download the WeatherCAN app for your mobile devices to get weather advisories of all kinds directly from Environment and Climate Change Canada.  

Cold weather assistance

Who to call for help and information

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Mobile outreach for people experiencing homelessness

The Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre operates a Mobile Outreach Van and responds to calls made to the City's 3-1-1 Call Line. Additionally, they attend calls at request of Ottawa Police, Paramedic and Fire personnel. They encourage people to seek indoor shelter and are able to transport them to places, where they can seek refuge such as emergency shelters. In addition, they have warm clothing and other resources for those who refuse shelter placement. The Ottawa Booth Centre Outreach Van also completes case management, with unsheltered individuals, to assist in finding and affording safe and secure long term housing. This service operates in the Ottawa city limits, seven days a week, from 6 am to 3 am. During extreme weather conditions, hours are extended up to 24 hours a day.

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Overnight shelters

Call 3-1-1 to get referred to an available and appropriate overnight shelter.

  • Cornerstone: Women’s Shelter
  • Salvation Army: Men’s Shelter, 171 George Street 
  • Shepherds of Good Hope: (both Men’s and Women’s Shelters), 256 King Edward Avenue
  • The Mission: Men’s Shelter, 35 Waller Street 
  • Youth Services Bureau shelters for youth and young adults
  • Bernard Grandmaître Arena, 309 McArthur Road
  • Dempsey Community Centre, 1895 Russell Road
  • Heron Road Community Centre, 1480 Heron Road

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Places to warm up excluding overnight shelters

  • Enter an address with a street number and street name in the search box and a list of the 20 closest warm spaces everyone is welcome will be displayed. 
  • Click on the icons and zoom in on the map to get details about each location.
  • See the More Info button for details.
  • This map does not include: 
    • Overnight shelters.
    • All warming spaces in Ottawa because there are other locations that offer client-specific services such as programs for youth or older adults, specific genders, medical conditions and different cultures.
    • Facilities and programs that require pre-registration and/or charge participation fees.
    • Community health and resource centres Food banks and community food cupboards, and
    • Programs that help people with specific needs.  

Help us improve this map by clicking the Feedback button on the side of this page. We would appreciate suggestions for public facilities or spaces you would like us to add. 

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Dressing for the cold

Hats, mittens, face masks and three layers

  • Wear a hat, gloves or mittens to prevent heat loss and protect ears and fingers from frostbite.
  • Wear a neck warmer to protect the chin, lips and cheeks - all are extremely susceptible to cold weather injuries.
  • Wear waterproof winter boots with room for an extra layer of socks.
  • If you start to sweat, cool off a little. If your clothing gets wet, change into dry clothes as soon as possible. Wet clothes will also encourage other cold weather injuries.
  • Wear clothes in layers
    • Inner layer (closest to the skin) - should have "wicking" properties to move any moisture away from the skin such as polyester, polypropylene or wool. Ideally this first layer of clothing should not be primarily cotton fabric because will hold moisture and cool your skin.
    • Middle layer - should be the insulating layer to prevent loss of your body heat while keeping the cold outside air away. Examples are sweaters, sweatshirts, down vests, and fleeces that are a bit loose and trap warm air.
    • Outer layer - should be the waterproof and windbreaking layer to reduce the chances of wet and cold air reaching the insulating layer. 

Download our Be Winter Ready! poster (pdf - 3 MB)

Always be on the lookout for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. In case of serious cold weather injury, you should  seek immediate medical attention.

For more information on winter safety, visit Health Canada (PDF)

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Frostbite injuries occur when exposed skin freezes when exposed to cold temperatures. Frostbite can lead to painful tissue damage and even amputations. Uncovered skin can freeze in as little as 10 minutes when exposed to wind chill values of -35 C or colder. The months of December, January and February are the coldest months of the Ottawa winter and it's difficult to avoid the cold weather. Frostbite is defined as damage of the skin from exposure to cold weather. City of Ottawa Paramedics remind everyone that cold that extremely cold weather can lead to serious complications, the worst being amputation. Injuries from frostbite are extremely common yet extremely preventable.

Frostbite mostly affects areas where the circulation is poor. Since cold weather will cause the body to take preventive measures by constricting (making smaller) the blood vessel, this opens the door to frostbite injuries.

Look for the four signs of frostbite

  1. Affected areas will look red, white, bluish-white, grayish-yellow, purplish, brown or ashen, depending on the severity of the condition and the person’s usual skin color.
  2. Affected areas will become painful.
  3. White, waxy-feeling patches will appear. This means skin is dying.
  4. Affected areas will then feel numb.

Tips to prevent frostbite

  • Get to a warm area before frostbite sets in. If it's too cold outside, consider staying indoors.
  • Keep extra mittens and gloves in the car, house or school bag.
  • Wear larger sized mittens over your gloves.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Wear a neck warmer to protect the chin, lips and cheeks. They are all extremely susceptible to frostbite.
  • Wear waterproof winter boots with room for an extra layer of socks. Wear two pairs of socks - wool if possible.
  • Make sure you are able to wiggle your toes in your boots. This air space around your toes acts as insulation.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol.

Should frostbite set-in...

  • Do not rub or massage affected areas. It may cause more damage.
  • NOT HOT - warm up the area slowly. Use a warm compresses or your own body heat to re-warm the area. Underarms are a good place.
  • If toes or feet are frostbitten, try not to walk on them.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if skin does not return to normal after being warmed up. 

Always be on the lookout for the symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia. In case of serious cold weather injury, City of Ottawa Paramedics urges you to seek immediate medical attention.

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Hypothermia, the most serious of cold weather complications can lead to brain damage and death. Hypothermia risks increase the colder it is both indoors and outdoors. Most susceptible are the elderly, infants, people experiencing homelessness, newcomers to Canada, and people who work or play outdoors. Whenever the body's normal temperature becomes too low, hypothermia (hypo=low and thermia=temperature) occurs and will starve the brain of much needed oxygen. During the hot or cold weather months City of Ottawa Paramedics remind you that finding warmth can be the key to survival. Hypothermia can occur even during the hot days of July. Swimming in cold water for a long period of time can induce hypothermia even in the hottest months of the year.

Who is at risk?

There are five groups that are most susceptible to hypothermia.

  • The elderly - with inadequate clothing, food (food sustains normal body temperature) or heat
  • Infants - sleeping in cold rooms or inappropriate clothing for the outdoors
  • People experiencing homelessness - lack of shelter, proper clothing and food
  • Winter sport enthusiasts 
  • Outdoor workers 

Signs of hypothermia

Look for the "UMBLES" from people affected by cold temperatures;

  • a person who mumbles
  • a person who stumbles
  • a person who fumbles objects

For infants look for cold reddish skin and low energy - always have a thermometer at home.

Tips to prevent hypothermia

  • Wear clothes in layers
    • inner layer (closest to the skin) - should have "wicking" properties to move any moisture away from the skin
    • middle layer - should be the insulating layer to prevent loss of your body heat while keeping the cold outside air away
    • outer layer - should be the "windbreaking" layer to reduce the chances of cold air reaching the insulating layer
  • Drink warm fluids and avoid drinking alcohol. According to Health Canada consuming alcohol before you go out in the cold may increase your risk of hypothermia because it increases blood flow to the extremities of the body. You may actually feel warm even though you are losing heat.
  • If you start to sweat, cool off a little. Wet clothes will also encourage other cold weather injuries.
  • Wear a hat - up to 40 per cent of body heat loss can occur through the head.
  • Wear gloves or mittens or both!
  • Wear a neck warmer to protect the chin, lips and cheeks - all are extremely susceptible to cold weather injuries.
  • When going on a trip leave the itinerary with a responsible person.
  • If hiking use a map and hand-held Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) device.

What to do in case of hypothermia

  • Remove wet clothing that promotes hypothermia.
  • Get to a warm place as soon as possible. Use several layers of blankets heated in your home dryer if possible.
  • If the person is alert, give warm beverages. Never give alcoholic beverages.
  • Seek immediate medical attention.

Always be on the lookout for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. In case of serious cold weather injury, City of Ottawa Paramedics urge you to seek immediate medical attention.

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Minimum heat requirement - rental housing

The City of Ottawa has a Heat By-law that requires landlords who normally cover heating expenses, to maintain adequate and suitable heat at all times (i.e., not less than 16.67°C at night and not less than 20°C during the daytime). For more information contact 3-1-1. 

Winter safety tips for babies and toddlers

  • Consider keeping your child indoors if the temperature or wind chill is reported to be -27°C or lower
  • Make sure your child always wears a hat that completely covers their ears.
  • Use neck warmers instead of scarves.
  • Take frequent breaks inside for a warm drink.
  • Keep your child active.
  • Cover their skin with layers of clothing. Consider thermal underwear, undershirts, sweaters, two pairs of socks, and/or two pairs of mittens..
  • Always remove your child's wet clothing and boots immediately.

For information about Winter safety: Advice for parents and kids visit the Canadian Paediatric Society, Caring for Kids website.

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Winter safety tips for older adults

Older adults are more sensitive to cold and can get hypothermia even when they are indoors, if their core temperature falls below 36°C. A body temperature below 36°C increases the risk of heart disease and kidney or liver damage, especially in people who have a history of low body temperature or have had hypothermia in the past. Older adults are advised to follow the advice below from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent hypothermia:

  • Wear warm, thick clothing, including a hat and scarf if needed. Keep a blanket nearby.
  • If you live alone, ask friends and family to check on you.
  • Check your thermostat or an easy-to-read indoor thermometer often. If you don’t have an easy-to-read thermometer, try to have one installed if possible.
    • Keep the house around 20 to 21°C and maintain your heating system. 
      • Block off any unused rooms and drafts from windows and doors.
      • If you use a fireplace or wood stove as your main heating source, have your chimney or flue inspected every year.
      • If your home doesn’t hold heat well, have the insulation checked.

Check out more stay safe in winter tips for preventing falls in winter on our Aging Well in Ottawa website.

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Coping with extreme cold at home during a power outage

Here are a few suggestions and resources about protection yourself and your home during cold events and power outages:

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Frozen drinking water service pipes

Severe and uninterrupted cold can result in a frozen water service pipe, preventing water from reaching your internal plumbing. The City will issue a seasonal run water advisory to vulnerable properties when frost reaches the appropriate depth. If a water service pipe freezes, City crews work to restore water service to the affected property as soon as possible.

For more information on preventing frozen water pipes, thawing water pipes manually inside your home, options for water when pipes are frozen, and who to connect with if you have questions, please see Drinking water advisories and planned work | City of Ottawa. Note that some of this information will be helpful if your home is serviced by a private well water supply.

Winter pedestrian and driving safety

Important information is available on winter considerations for pedestrians and drivers on the City of Ottawa and the Ontario on Winter Driving Safety websites including what to include in a vehicle winter survival kit and using Ontario511 information to find out where plows are on provincial highways and what the road conditions are and where yellow grit boxes are in the City to help prevent falls. 

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