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Montgomery County Issues Cold Emergency Alert; Community Members Urged to Take Precautions

Due to expected overnight temperatures tonight into tomorrow in Montgomery County falling into the single digits with a wind chill of 0 to minus 10 degrees, the Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security is issuing a Cold Emergency Alert to go into effect tonight at 7:00 pm.

A Cold Emergency Alert, the highest level of extreme temperature alert, is issued for the County when conditions, temperature combined with wind chill are forecasted to be below 20 degrees; and there are other conditions that pose a significant threat to exposed human and animal life. Those may include: wind chill advisories or warnings from the National Weather Service and/or significant snow fall.

At this time, there is a Wind Chill Advisory for Montgomery County in which wind chills are expected to be below -5 degrees at times.

There is always particular concern during periods of extreme cold for children, seniors, homeless individuals and animals. Everyone spending time outside should take necessary precautions against the extreme cold. Frostbite can occur with as little as 30 minutes of exposure to the cold. Anyone being outside should dress in layers of warm clothing and wear a hat. Nearly half of body heat is lost through the head. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold. Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves. Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

“Exposure to cold temperatures, even for a short time, can carry significant health risks to include hypothermia,” said County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles. “All residents should take extra precautions to stay warm, particularly our most vulnerable residents, including elderly and individuals with chronic health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease that may increase their risk of side effects related to cold temperatures.”

  • Neighbors, friends or family members should check on the elderly, especially a senior living alone. Older people are particularly susceptible to hypothermia, even inside their homes and may need assistance.

  • Montgomery County provides a variety of sheltering opportunities for the homeless.

  • Animals should not be left outside unattended. Leaving animals outside unattended in these conditions may be considered an act of cruelty and pet owners could be charged and fined accordingly. Executive Regulation 10-10AM, unattended tethering of dogs remains in effect. Call the police non-emergency number, 301-279-8000, to report an animal that appears to be in danger.

Community members should be aware of the following important information:

All Montgomery County facilities, such as libraries, recreation centers and senior centers open during their regular hours can be used by anyone needing an escape from the cold. Public shopping centers are also available as warm locations during their hours of operation.

Montgomery County Health and Human Services staff, as well as community-based providers will continue to reach out to homeless individuals in the community to urge them to seek shelter during the extreme cold temperatures being forecast for the next several days. Anyone who has concern about the safety of a homeless individual should call the police non-emergency number, 301-279-8000 to report the location and provide a description of the individual.

The Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless Men’s Emergency Shelter, located at 600 East Gude Drive in Rockville and the Interfaith Works Progress Place Shelter for both men and women, located at 8106 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring, are available around-the-clock to receive homeless individuals, without any pre-screening and are prepared to go over regular capacity during periods of extreme cold. The County’s Department of Health and Human Services Mobile Crisis Team will also be operational and can be reached at 240-777-4000.

During periods of extreme cold, all emergency and transitional shelters will allow homeless individuals to stay inside until temperatures improve, and/or return to a shelter early from daytime activity programs. The Interfaith Works Empowerment Center, located at 8106 Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring is also open during the day.

For additional information on County services contact MC311 by calling 3-1-1 or 240-777-0311 between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm weekdays, or through the www.MC311.com website address which is available to receive emails 24/7.


Extreme cold is a dangerous situation that can bring on health emergencies in susceptible people, such as the very young, seniors, those without shelter or who are stranded, or who live in a home that is poorly insulated and/or without heat. Hypothermia can result from prolonged exposure to the cold. When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. When the body’s store of energy is used up, the result is hypothermia. Because hypothermia can affect the brain, a person may not be aware that it is happening, and not take appropriate steps to prevent damage.

Warning Signs:

  • Shivering, exhaustion

  • Confusion, fumbling hands

  • Memory loss, slurred speech

  • Drowsiness

  • For infants – bright red, cold skin, very low energy

What to do:

  • If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency – get medical attention immediately

  • If the person is unconscious and does not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing, call 9-1-1

Prior to medical care:

  • Get victim into a warm room or shelter

  • Remove any wet clothing

  • Warm the center of the body first – chest, neck, head and groin – using electric blanket if available, or use skin-to-skin-contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets

  • Warm, nonalcoholic, beverages can help increase body temperatures if the victim is conscious


Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas, typically the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers or toes. Signs of frostbite include redness or pain in any skin area, a white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and numbness.

What to do:

  • Get into a warm area as soon as possible

  • Immerse the affected area in warm, but not hot, water

  • Warm the affected area using body heat

  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace or radiator for warming

  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes if at all possible

  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it in any fashion

Outdoor Safety:

Try to stay indoors, and make trips outside as brief as possible. Limit outdoor recreational activity. Outdoor cold weather exertion puts extra strain on the heart.

  • Wear hat, scarf or mask to cover face and mouth

  • Sleeves should be snug at the wrist

  • Mittens are warmer than gloves

  • Several layers of loose-fitting clothing should be worn under a heavy coat

Indoor Safety:

If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace or space heater, be extremely careful. Never use generators, grills, camp stoves or similar devices indoors, inside a garage, or near the air intake of your house because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Only use combustion heaters if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space

  • Do not place a space heater within three feet of anything that may catch fire, such as drapes, furniture or bedding

  • Do not use an extension cord

Vehicle Safety:

During cold winter weather, keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Make sure there is adequate antifreeze. Have a car cell phone charger in your vehicle and keep a charged cell phone with you in case of an emergency. Never leave a person of any age or a pet alone in a vehicle. Have extra blankets and supplies in case of a breakdown.

Animal Care:

During a period of extreme cold temperatures, the Montgomery County Police Animal Services Division (ASD) enforces Executive Regulation 10-10AM, Anti-Cruelty Conditions for Dogs. Director of Animal Services Division Thomas J. Koenig is notifying residents that animals must not be left outside unattended. Furthermore, leaving animals left outside unattended in these conditions may be considered an act of cruelty and pet owners could be charged accordingly.

Section II-C of the regulation states that “a person must not tether a dog under circumstances that endanger its health, safety, or well-being including: unattended tethering of the dog during a weather emergency.” The enforcement of this regulation is put into effect during conditions of extreme cold, wind, and heavy snow which can all be damaging to dogs and other animals. The penalty for this violation is a $500 fine.

Montgomery County Police Animal Services officers want to remind citizens to be particularly careful with all pets during this time period of record cold. The best advice during periods of extreme weather conditions is to bring your pets indoors. Even animals that are accustomed to living outdoors can be susceptible to the dangers of cold weather. Livestock animals should have a place to get out of the wind; dry bedding should be provided to protect them from frostbite.

ASD Officers will be on-call, patrolling neighborhoods and responding to any animal-related emergencies. If you see an animal left outside that appears to be in danger, please call the Animal Services Division immediately at 301-279-8000.

Tips from veterinarians for cold weather care of a dog include:

  • Provide a heated bed and shelter for dogs which cannot come indoors

  • Avoid letting your dog eat snow – keep fresh room temperature water available at all times

  • Keep food and water in a place where it will not freeze – preferably inside

  • A dog’s ears and tail are susceptible to frostbite; check them after a dog has been outside for a long period of time

  • Like coolant, antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol

  • A dog licking the salt off the bottom of his paws can make him sick, so wipe his paws after he walks through a salted area

  • Never leave your dog or cat alone in a car during cold weather because a car can act as a refrigerator in the winter, holding in the cold and causing the animal to freeze to death.