A potentially historic cold front is set to sweep through Colorado starting Wednesday night, bringing with it sub-zero temperatures, a few inches of snow and ample opportunity to stay indoors and keep warm.
Temperatures are expected to drop as low as -12 degrees Wednesday night, with a high of zero for Thursday and another night below zero after that, with wind chills making it even colder. Scott Entrekin of the National Weather Service said 2 to 4 inches of snow is also in the forecast.
To brace for the cold, the city will open the Denver Coliseum as a 24-hour warming shelter starting at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The city’s libraries and recreation centers will also be opened for shelter during their regular business hours this week.
The cold will bring risks to people, pets and homes alike. To avoid bursting pipes or frosted fingertips, be prepared and bundle up. Here are some tips on how to weather the cold this week.
Protect your pipes
Nobody wants burst pipes. Fortunately, you can take steps to prevent them from freezing. The Red Cross recommends opening cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around plumbing (but be mindful of what’s in those cabinets, if there are kids around). If an indoor faucet is serviced by an exposed pipe, then let that faucet drip water. That’ll help prevent it from freezing. Keep a consistent temperature in the home day and night, too.
Levi Torres, president of High 5 Plumbing in Denver, echoed those recommendations and said people should turn up the heat as much as they comfortably can during the worst of the cold. Drawers near sinks should be opened, too, to allow for more airflow. He suggested homeowners with crawl spaces cover up those vents for the next 24 hours to cut down on additional cold air entering the home.
If you turn on a faucet and water comes out in a trickle, your pipes may be frozen. The Red Cross recommends keeping the faucet open to help unfreeze the pipe. Direct heat on the pipes — from a hair dryer, heating pad or space heater — can help, too.
If a pipe does burst, Torres said, you should turn off your main water shutoff and then contact a professional.
Protect your body
In extremely cold temperatures, like those expected in Colorado this week, frostbite can set in on exposed skin within 30 minutes, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you do need to go outdoors, Mayo recommends limiting your time outside, dressing in layers of loose and warm clothing, opting for mittens over gloves, staying hydrated and being mindful of frostbite symptoms. Pull on a warm hat, warm socks and a face-covering, too.
Watch out for numb skin, clumsiness due to stiffness, and change in skin color. The color will look different depending on the severity of the case, according to May, but be on the watch for “red, white, bluish-white, grayish-yellow, purplish, brown or ashen” skin coloration. Frostbite most commonly affects the fingers, toes, cheeks, noses, chins and ears.
When you come back inside, remove any wet clothing, protect any exposed skin from additional exposure, don’t walk on frostbitten feet and take over-the-counter pain relievers for discomfort. Contact a health care provider if your skin is white or blue-gray and if you lose sensation in the area, if pain continues or you develop a fever. Slurred speech, drowsiness, poor coordination and intense shivering are all further signs you may need medical attention, the Mayo Clinic says. Be on the look out for blisters, too.
Protect your pets
Even if your pets spend a lot of time outside, the Humane Society suggests keeping them indoors during the cold. Exposed skin — on the nose, ears, and paws — is at risk for frostbite, so limit your pets’ outdoor exposure and consider a coat and booties for their feet. If it’s too cold for people, it’s usually too cold for pets. Don’t forget to bundle yourself up, too, for their potty breaks and walks.
If your pet gets wet outside, towel them off when they come back in and keep your home humidified to protect their skin, according to the ASPCA. Pets also burn more energy when it’s cold, so ASPCA recommends feeding them a little more, and hydration is a must. Don’t leave your pets in the car when it’s too cold, either. Cars can act as refrigerators.
If traveling in the cold, keep a cold-weather emergency kit in your car. Those kits should include additional warm clothing, blankets, snacks, water and medical supplies. Be sure to have a sturdy scraper for any ice or snow buildup, and completely clear your windows before driving. Make sure your car has gas, your battery’s in good shape, and that you limit time in your car and away from your home.
Stay indoors as much as possible, particularly during peak cold-weather hours and days. Use only approved heaters and avoid using household appliances like stoves or ovens to heat your home. Otherwise, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning, Boulder County Public Health warns. Check on your loved ones, too.
If you’ve got gutters, make sure they’re clear of debris to avoid ice buildup. Disconnect hoses and make sure outdoor faucets are turned off.