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Tips for Surviving This Week’s Arctic Blast

Protecting yourself, your home, and your office during Thanksgiving break


The calendar may say mid-November, but it will feel a lot more like February on Thanksgiving as an Arctic front descends on the Boston area. Temperatures are expected to dip to 15 degrees Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, with the wind chill, it’s going to feel like five below zero, with temperatures remaining in the single digits most of the day. Given that many people will be leaving campus for the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, students, faculty, and staff are urged to take precautions and to make sure that their apartments, dorm rooms, offices, and labs are properly insulated from the frigid temperatures.

“Forecasters are predicting some of the coldest temperatures on record for Thanksgiving Day,” says Thomas Daley, associate vice president for facilities management and planning. “To protect our buildings, please ensure that windows and outside doors are securely closed for the holiday. Severe cold can take a toll on buildings, as well as people. Adding wind to the mix can make for a very serious situation.

“Our buildings all have heating/cooling, fire sprinkler, and lab cooling systems that can easily freeze up when subject to subfreezing temperatures. We have had doors that do not close all the way, windows in offices that are left open, and dorm room windows that are opened to let in fresh air and never closed,” Daley says. Everyone should make sure to close windows and keep them closed and that the heat remains on. Anyone who has a window or door that will not close securely is asked to contact Facilities Management & Planning at 617-353-2105 for issues on the Charles River and Fenway Campuses and 617-638-4144 for issues on the Medical Campus.

BU staff and students, especially students unaccustomed to a cold climate, should review the cold weather precautions listed on the city of Boston safety web page. Most important is dressing for the severe cold: wear several layers of warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Be sure that your outer layer is tightly woven and windproof. Cover all exposed skin and watch for frostbite (freezing of the skin and underlying tissues). In extreme cold, frostbite can happen in less than a minute, and wind makes the risk that much greater.

The symptoms of frostbite include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, earlobes, and the tip of the nose. Anyone with these symptoms should contact Student Health Services at 617-353-3575. Among the signs of hypothermia (a dangerously low body temperature) are uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If you or someone you know shows any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

If you live in an apartment-style residence and your apartment is chilly, do not under any circumstances try to stay warm by turning the oven on and opening the oven door. Space heaters are prohibited for fire safety reasons.

Other tips for cold weather safety:

  • Be aware of extreme weather conditions by continuously monitoring media reports.
  • In addition to dressing in layers, with a tightly woven and water-repellent outer garment, protect your extremities by wearing a hat (most body heat is lost through the top of the head), mittens (better than gloves), and sturdy waterproof boots. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Make sure you always have a well-stocked winter home emergency kit that includes flashlights, a portable radio, extra batteries, a first aid kit, bottled water, nonperishable food, and a manual can opener. Do not use candles.
  • When using alternate heating sources, such as a fireplace, wood stove, or space heater, take the necessary safety precautions. Keep a fire extinguisher handy and make sure that everyone knows how to use it properly. Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors to make sure they are in working order.
  • If you lose your heat, seal off unused rooms by stuffing towels in the cracks under the doors. At night, cover windows with extra blankets or sheets.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check with elderly relatives and friends who may need assistance to make sure they’re safe.
  • To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture. Allow a trickle of warm water to run from a faucet that is far from your water meter or one that has frozen in the past. This will keep the water moving so that it cannot freeze. Be sure you know how to shut off your water supply should a pipe burst.
  • Drink noncaffeinated fluids. Dehydration occurs more quickly in cold, dry weather. Be sure to keep hydrated, especially if you are exerting yourself.
  • Don’t drink alcohol. Alcohol can speed the onset and worsen the effects of hypothermia.
  • Make sure your car is properly winterized. Keep the gas tank at least half full. Store in your car emergency blankets, extra clothing, a flashlight with spare batteries, nonperishable foods, a windshield scraper, a shovel, sand, a towrope, and jumper cables.
  • Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel.
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