When power outages occur after severe weather, such as winter storms, using alternative sources of power can cause carbon monoxide (CO) to build up in a home and poison the people and animals inside. Every year, at least 430 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning. Carbon Monoxide can’t be seen, can’t be smelled, and can’t be heard. Change the batteries in your CO detector every six months. If you don't have a battery-powered or battery back-up CO detector, buy one soon. Leave your home immediately if the CO detector sounds, and call 911.
CO is found in fumes produced by portable generators, stoves, lanterns, and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned and can die from breathing CO. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.
CO poisoning is entirely preventable. You can protect yourself and your family by acting wisely in case of a power outage and learning the symptoms of CO poisoning.
- Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
- Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage, even with the door open.
- Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
- Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
- Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
- If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.
- If CO poisoning is suspected, consult a health care professional right away.
Although winter comes as no surprise, many of us are not ready for its arrival. If you are prepared for the hazards of winter, you will be more likely to stay safe and healthy when temperatures start to fall.
Many people prefer to remain indoors in the winter, but staying inside is no guarantee of safety. Take these steps to keep your home safe and warm during the winter months. Winterize your home by installing weather stripping, insulation, and storm windows. Insulate water lines that run along exterior walls. Clean out gutters and repair roof leaks. Check your heating systems by having your heating system serviced professionally to make sure that it is clean, working properly and ventilated to the outside. Inspect and clean fireplaces and chimneys. Install a smoke detector. Test batteries monthly. Have a safe alternate heating source and alternate fuels available.
Get your car ready for cold weather use before winter arrives. Service the radiator and maintain the antifreeze level. Check tire tread or, if necessary, replace tires with all-weather or snow tires. Keep the gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Use a wintertime formula in your windshield washer. Prepare a winter emergency kit to keep in your car in case you become stranded. Include blankets, food and water, booster cables, flares, tire pump, a bag of sand or cat litter for traction, compass and maps, flashlight, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, first-aid kit and plastic bags for sanitation.
When planning travel, be aware of the current and forecasted weather conditions. Avoid traveling when the weather service has issued advisories. If you must travel, inform a friend or relative of your proposed route and expected time of arrival. Follow these safety rules if you become stranded in your car.
- Stay with your car unless safety is no more than 100 yards away, but continue to move arms and legs.
- Stay visible by putting bright cloth on the antenna, turning on the inside overhead light (when engine is running), and raising the hood when snow stops falling.
- Run the engine and heater only 10 minutes every hour.
- Keep a downwind window open.
- Make sure the tailpipe is not blocked.
Be prepared for weather-related emergencies, including power outages. Stock food that needs no cooking or refrigeration and water stored in clean containers. Ensure that your cell phone is fully charged. When planning travel, be aware of current and forecast weather conditions. Keep an up-to-date home emergency kit, including battery-operated devices, such as a flashlight, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and lamps; extra batteries; first-aid kit and extra medicine; baby items; and cat litter or sand for icy walkways.
Many people spend time outdoors in the winter working, traveling, or enjoying winter sports. Outdoor activities can expose you to several safety hazards, but you can take these steps to prepare for them. Wear appropriate outdoor clothing: layers of light, warm clothing; mittens; hats; scarves; and waterproof boots. Sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches. Learn safety precautions to follow when outdoors.
- Be aware of the wind chill factor.
- Work slowly when doing outside chores.
- Take a buddy and an emergency kit when you are participating in outdoor recreation.
- Carry a cell phone.
Above all, be prepared to check on family and neighbors who are especially at risk from cold weather hazards: young children, older adults, and the chronically ill. If you have pets, bring them inside. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate, warm shelter and unfrozen water to drink.
See the CDC Feature on CO Poisoning
Also see the CDC Feature on Winter Weather