TORONTO: As of this week, the City of Toronto’s annual Cold Weather Response Plan is in effect to help protect Toronto residents and visitors from the negative health effects of extreme cold weather.
The plan is implemented annually from November 15 to April 15 to coordinate City of Toronto and partner agency cold weather preparedness and response activities across the city.
The Cold Weather Response Plan prioritizes awareness of weather conditions, education about the negative effects of cold weather exposure and coordination of warm places for vulnerable people to get out of the cold.
A critical process intended to build awareness of weather conditions are Extreme Cold Weather Alerts (ECWA). An ECWA is issued to ensure that residents take necessary precautions to stay safe from the cold. In Toronto, an ECWA is issued by the Medical Officer of Health when temperatures are forecasted to reach -15 C or below and/or when the wind chill is forecast to reach -20 C or colder.
An ECWA may also be issued when the forecast includes factors that increase the impact of cold weather on health. These include precipitation, low daytime temperatures, or several consecutive days and nights of cold weather.
The temperature at which the Medical Officer of Health will declare an ECWA is warmer than that of some weather services, including Environment and Climate Change Canada.
These warmer temperature parameters are used in the best interest of protecting vulnerable Torontonians. When an ECWA is declared, information with be shared via Toronto Public Health’s Twitter accounts, as well as posted to the City’s Twitter and Facebook When an ECWA is declared, it activates local services that help vulnerable residents get and stay inside.
Warming Centres give vulnerable people and those experiencing homelessness a safe warm place to rest and access snacks, washroom facilities and referrals to emergency shelter. Currently there are two sites confirmed for this cold weather season – Metro Hall and the Scarborough Civic Centre. The City continues to work with landlords and partners in the real estate sector to secure additional sites to serve as Warming Centres.
During extreme cold, the City’s Streets to Homes program also dispatches additional 24/7 street outreach teams to do wellness checks with those living outdoors and encourage them to seek indoor shelter. Throughout the winter, staff also hand out blankets, sleeping bags and warm winter clothing.
Services made available during an ECWA are in addition to the services and capacity created by the City’s Winter Services Plan for people experiencing homelessness. Cold weather can lead to cold-related injuries, such as frostnip, frostbite and hypothermia. Depending on the wind chill, it can take only minutes for exposed skin to freeze. Cold weather can also exacerbate existing conditions, like cardiovascular and respiratory disease.