The Big Chill: Protection in Extremely Cold Weather
Advice to protect yourself, your car and your home.
Unpredictable weather in recent years is a good reminder to be prepared for the mercury dropping.
In January 2019, a mass of arctic air descended into the middle and eastern portions of North America, causing temperatures to plummet. The temperature in Chicago, for example, was a bitter 23 degrees below zero on Jan. 30, making the city colder than parts of Antarctica on that day. That kind of cold presents a unique set of challenges.
These tips can help you during periods of extremely cold weather.
Care for yourself
You know how to deal with cold weather—and even very cold weather—but what about extreme temperatures that threaten your health and safety?
Wind chill: In cold weather, your body boosts heat production to help maintain normal body temperature. But wind draws the warmth from your skin and speeds up heat loss, which creates life-threatening conditions. Example: A 20-mph wind when it’s 5 degrees below zero creates a wind chill of 29 degrees below zero—dangerously cold.
Frostbite and hypothermia: Frostbite—the freezing of skin and the tissue beneath it—usually affects extremities like fingers, ears and the tip of the nose first. In extremely cold weather, exposed skin can get frostbite in minutes, and prolonged exposure can lead to life-threatening hypothermia—a dangerous drop in body temperature.
How AAA can help
Storm information: Get emails about extreme weather, free for AAA Members. To sign up or learn more, visit AAA.com/Weather.
Travel protection: Planning a major trip? Travel insurance through AAA can provide protection if your trip is canceled by things like extremely cold weather. Learn more at AAA.com/TravelInsurance.
Care for your car
Extremely cold weather can affect your car even though it may be working fine in normal weather. Here are some things to watch.
Battery: A common cause of cold-weather breakdowns is a weak or dead battery. Signs that you may need to replace your battery include a motor that starts sluggishly or if the battery warning light is illuminated.
Fluids: Low temperatures cause automotive fluids to thicken and restrict flow. Transmission fluid and motor oil can be affected. Antifreeze may be less effective if it’s old or has an improper ratio of coolant to water. Moisture in the fuel tank or lines can freeze.
Tire pressure: Cold air reduces tire pressure by about 1 or 2 pounds per square inch for every 10 degrees the temperature drops. Underinflated tires can impact steering and traction and cause unsafe tread wear.
What you can do for your safety
- Check the forecast and delay your trip if extremely cold weather is expected. Visit your state’s Department of Transportation webpage for traffic and road conditions.
- Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area (like a garage).
- Always have a cell phone with you and a car charger in your vehicle.
- Don’t use cruise control when driving on wet or icy roads.
- Stay with your vehicle if you get stranded. Run it only long enough to keep warm.
How AAA can help
Maintenance inspection: Get peace of mind with a free (for members) multipoint vehicle maintenance inspection at any AAA Approved Auto Repair facility. Find a shop near you at AAA.com/AutoRepair.
Roadside assistance: Getting help is easy: A call to 800-AAA-HELP (800-222-4357), an online request at AAA.com/RoadsideAssistance, via Alexa or Google Assistant, or a tap of the screen with the free AAA Mobile app is all it takes.
Care for your home
You may have prepped for winter, but is your home ready for extremely cold weather? Water pipes and heating systems may require special attention.
How AAA can help
Property insurance: Make sure your home has the protection it needs. Visit AAA.com/Insurance.