Welcome to Canadian winter: After the winter storm

By: Jennifer Barnable, Senior Digital Writer

In this series, newcomers will learn how to be better prepared for the risks and realities that come with Canadian winter. Discover practical tips for cold weather safety, first aid and emergencies like snowstorms and power outages.

The blizzard has finally passed. The ice storm has stopped raging. Your home is snowed in and the power is out, though thankfully your household members are safely inside. As you stare at the powerful work by Mother Nature, what do you do when the world outside is covered in snow and ice?
A group of people outside in wintertime holding snow
The Espinoza Family from Chile experience their first Nordic winter.
For many newcomers, the aftermath of a winter emergency requires a safe and strategic approach, including advanced planning.

The Red Cross Disaster Risk Reduction team and Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) collaborated to provide newcomers with practical knowledge and preparedness tips to help prepare for the realities of powerful winter storms.

Laurence Huneault is a preparedness and resilience advisor at the Canadian Red Cross, based in Montreal. Her work focuses on developing preparedness resources, tools and projects to support community resilience. She shares her recommendations for newcomers’ approach to winter storm safety.

“Monitor how you and your loved ones are feeling. Emergencies, including winter storms, affect everyone differently,” she explains. “Help others if you can. Following public health guidelines in your province or territory, check on family members, friends and neighbours who may require additional assistance, whether they live alone, have disabilities, or are elderly.

Recognizing after-storm risks

Laurence recommends these practical tips for after the winter emergency or storm:
  • avoid travelling if possible, and check local news and weather reports for current road and weather conditions
  • be aware of the wind chill - avoid unnecessary cold exposure to of any part of the body
  • if you have to go outside, dress appropriately, and if you have pets, keep them inside and warm. When outdoors, watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia
  • once the winter storm has passed, take the opportunity to review your family emergency plan and restock your personalized emergency kit
  • if there was major snow or ice accumulation, clear snow with caution and avoid overexertion. Move carefully on icy surfaces and use rock salt to melt the ice.
  • if there was a power outage, give your home electrical system a chance to stabilize before reconnecting your tools and appliances. Check on your food supplies in refrigerators, freezers and cupboards to look for signs of anything that has spoiled.
  • if someone is suffering from a cold-related illness or injury, take necessary steps to ensure their safety, remove them from the elements, and provide first aid treatment if you can – or find someone nearby who can help.

Finding a warm, safe place during a power outage

Albina Ziatdinova was a newcomer herself, and now works with ISANS’ Arrive Prepared program to help other newcomers prepare for their new lives in Canada, before they get here. She recalls her first winters in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

A woman in winter toque outside in winter
Albina Ziatdinova is now at home in Atlantic Canadian winter
“The first couple of winters took us by surprise. Sometimes, right after a snowfall, the weather can warm up surprisingly. Everything starts to melt and the streets become one huge puddle of water. Then, all that water freezes overnight as the temperature goes down,” she explains.

“The next morning, you can never be sure if you are going to penguin walk to your car or slide right past it, because it’s so icy! Now we always have ice-melting salt ready in our garage, good winter tires on our car, and ice cleats to safely walk around, especially after freezing rain or ice storms.”

Power outages during winter storms also opened Albina’s eyes. “Living in Atlantic Canada brought a completely new winter experience for our family. When my son was about three years old, a powerful winter storm happened overnight,” she remembers. “In the morning, the power was out and the house was cold. My husband had to leave for work, so my son and I got breakfast at a nearby Tim Hortons that still had power, before we went to the local library that had electricity and heat until the power came back in our neighbourhood.”

Albina adds, “It turned out to be a wonderful day together, because we figured out what to do in that emergency to stay warm, access food and keep safe. Now we have another heating source, emergency food ready and other supplies ready at home to be able to shelter in place, in case we are snowed in or cannot leave the house in extreme weather conditions.”

Ready for winter power loss

Shirin Jalali and Ramin Hakimi are dentists from Iran who now make Atlantic Canada their home.

“I was born and grew up in a part of Iran that has cold and windy winter, with lots of snow,” Shirin explains. “So, I thought I was familiar with tough winter, but I was wrong. Winter in Canada is much harder than my home country.”

She notes, “During winter storms, I usually keep some basic essentials like candles, blankets and a battery-operated radio at home, just in case of a power failure – especially after experiencing losing power for one week after Hurricane Dorian.”
A man and a woman standing outside in the wintertime with a frozen pond behind them
Shirin Jalali and Ramin Hakimi often take long winter walks after snowstorms are safely over.

Ramin, her husband, adds, “The winter storms here are hard, cold, windy and with lots of snow. We like to be ready for possible future power outages. When the power is out after a snowstorm, we try to keep the house warm by using our propane fireplace and extra blankets.”

He continues, “We also close doors of any rooms we are not using to keep the main living area warmer.

Like Shirin said, we have emergency essentials like canned food, other easy-to-eat food and enough water for drinking and hygiene.”

Shirin proudly calls herself a “winter person” who enjoys heavy snowfalls for scenic trail walks and building snowmen for that Canadian feeling. “I even like shovelling snow after big storms,” she admits.

Her husband adds, “The first thing we do after a snowstorm is to make an exit path to safely get out of the house. I shovel with extra care not to harm my back, and of course, proper winter attire is a must.”

A “new version of cold”

Jaime Espinoza and his family moved from Chile to Norway, then Canada over recent years. The engineer has just experienced the first significant snowfall Halifax has seen this winter season.

“In Santiago de Chile, winter is our rainy season with cold days and beautiful skies. The temperature rarely drops below zero. My first experience with a really cold winter was in December 2019 in Norway. I assumed that this experience with a Nordic winter would have served as training for when we came to Canada. Now, weeks into the early winter in Nova Scotia, our family has met a new version of cold. Here, the wind penetrates everything and makes you feel much colder.”
A man standing in front of wrought iron gates covered in snow
Jaime Espinoza after his first snowstorm experience in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Jaime, his wife and sons have learned that it is important to pay attention to the weather forecast not just before a storm, but during and after, too. “It’s important to be prepared for the conditions as they change. We notice the weather changes rapidly here. Fortunately, we live in an apartment with very good insulation, a heating system and a back-up power system.”

He continues, “Before a storm, we make sure we have enough supplies for the family for a couple of days, and during a storm we entertain ourselves by singing and playing instruments together, reading, drawing and other hobbies.”

After the storm is the time that concerns Jaime the most. “I hope we get used to the low temperatures of the days that follow the storm. I think those days after the storm worry me more than the storm itself. Of course, just as Chileans have learned to live with earthquakes and make them part of our lives, Canadians learned to love their winter and snow. I hope to learn that too!”

Winter wishes for new Canadians

Further tips on what to do after a winter storm can be found online at www.redcross.ca/ready and www.getprepared.ca. If you missed any of the other stories in our “Welcome to Canadian Winter” blog series, check out the other posts below for more winter preparedness topics, and share it with your newcomer friends, neighbours and colleagues.

Stay safe this winter, and once again, welcome to Canada!

Would you like to be better prepared for winter in Canada? Enroll in our First Aid Basics workshop, offered in multiple languages and flexible formats ideal for newcomers. Download the Canadian Red Cross First Aid App to keep life-saving knowledge in your pocket – it’s free, interactive and even works without an internet connection.
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