Cold weather and your health

Helping you prepare for the extremes of severe weather

Helping you to prepare and reduce the effects of extreme weather conditions on your health

Take extra care

In 2011/12, there were 24,200 more deaths in England between the months of December 2011 and March 2012 than were observed over the rest of the year - a large proportion of these are thought to be due to cold weather. Cold temperatures can cause physiological effects such as thicker blood, increase in blood pressure and tightening of the airways - making people who already have chronic conditions even more vulnerable.

There is a link between the onset of cold weather and deaths from both heart attacks and respiratory illnesses. Older people are particularly at risk as they do not feel the cold until their body temperature falls. People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) also have a significantly increased risk of ill-health and hospitalisation during periods of cold weather and high levels of circulating respiratory infections.

We work closely with Public Health England to identify when winter weather is likely to significantly impact people's health, we also work in partnership to develop the Cold Weather Plan for England. The Plan, which aims to reduce the impact of cold weather on people's health, provides advice for individuals, communities and agencies on how to prepare for and respond to cold weather.

The Cold Weather Plan for England is linked to a winter weather warning system developed by the Met Office called the . The service operates in England from 1 November to 31 March every year. Cold Weather Alerts are sent to NHS Trusts in England, and Age UK, to ensure that staff and resources are fully prepared for any cold weather periods, heavy snow and / or widespread ice, and that those who are more vulnerable to cold weather conditions are aware and prepared. Cold Weather Alerts are also issued on our website, via weather forecasts on TV and radio and also via our Twitter feed. Cold Weather Alerts are also issued on our website, via weather forecasts on TV and radio and also via our Twitter feed.

How should I prepare for snow and ice?

Before snow and ice

  • Put grit or cat litter on paths and driveways to lessen the risk of slipping on compacted snow.
  • Check on vulnerable neighbours.
  • If you have to make a journey when snow is forecast, make sure you have warm clothes, food, water, boots, a torch and spade, and let someone know when you expect to arrive and your route.
  • Try to wait until the roads have been gritted before travelling.

During snow and ice

  • If you go outside wear several layers of clothing and keep dry to prevent loss of body heat.
  • Clear paths of snow before it freezes over to lessen the risk of slipping on ice.
  • Watch out for signs of hypothermia - uncontrollable shivering, slow/slurred speech, memory lapse and drowsiness and frostbite - loss of feeling in and pale appearance of fingers, toes, nose and ear lobes. Keep moving your arms and legs to help the blood circulate.
  • Avoid travel if possible. If you must drive check the Highway Code for advice on driving in icy and snowy weather.

After snow and ice

  • Be careful when walking or driving on compacted snow - it may have turned to ice.
  • Take care when shovelling snow. Cold air makes it harder to work and breathe, which adds some extra strain on the body and can be the cause of heart attacks in the vulnerable months.

This year the Met Office is hosting the Get ready for winter web pages on behalf of HM Government and partners. These pages host a range of information and advice to help you, your family and your community prepare for winter weather. This includes a page on health and wellbeing that gives practical steps that you can take to help keep warm and healthy throughout the winter months.

Last updated: 24 November 2014