Brrrr! How to stay warm and safe when the power is out

Freezing rain is in the forecast for Thursday night and Friday morning. When rain freezes, ice weighs down trees and powerlines, so we’re hearing predictions of widespread power outages from our colleagues in emergency management.

Power outages are more than an inconvenience. When temperatures are cold, power outages can become emergency situations. Get ready ahead of time so you can avoid dangers if you lose electricity.

What should I do if I see damaged or downed power lines?

  • Don’t get near any fallen or sagging power line!
  • Call the utility company about the line.

My power has been out for a while and my home is too cold. Are there other places I can go?

In a widespread power outage, electricity may be out for several days as power company crews are stretched thin to do repairs. Have a backup plan of places you can go to stay warm. That could a friend or family’s home that has power, or the library, community center or shopping mall.

For information about cold weather shelters, check lists of available locations.

What can I do to stay warmer inside my home while the power is out?

  • Wear several layers of light weight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Wear hats, mittens, and blankets indoors.
  • Close curtains and cover windows and doors with blankets.
  • Everyone should try to stay together in one room, with the door closed, to keep in body heat.
  • Prevent poisoning from carbon monoxide: Never use charcoal or gas grills or propane heaters indoors. Odorless, invisible fumes from charcoal, gas, and propane can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Using these heaters indoors can also increase the risk of fire.

How should I use a power generator?

  • For your safety, always follow the manufacturer’s instruction on the use of power generators.
  • Since most generators are powered by gasoline and can generate carbon monoxide gas, run them outdoors where the fumes will not cause illness.
  • Power generators should never be plugged into your home’s main electrical panel. It could result in serious injury or death to utility personnel working to restore power. Instead, plug the generator directly into the appliance you wish to use during the outage.

What if I depend on electricity for medical equipment at home?

  • If you rely on electricity for wheelchairs or other medical devices, charge up or store extra batteries if possible.
  • Consider purchasing a back-up power supply such as a generator or going to a health care facility that has back-up power.
  • If you depend on home oxygen, work with your regular provider (such as a home care company or medical gas company) on a personal preparedness plan. Personal preparedness strategies could include things like stocking up on extra cylinders ahead of a storm, or obtaining a backup power source for oxygen concentrators.
  • If you lose access to home oxygen and this creates a medical emergency, call 911 or visit an emergency department.
  • People who use life support equipment should register with the local utility. When they do this, the utility will make them a top priority for power supply repair and restoration.

Is food in the fridge safe to eat if the power goes out?

Don’t make yourself miserable by eating spoiled food. If your power goes out:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to keep the cold air inside.
  • The refrigerator will keep food safe for up to 4 hours. If the power is off longer, you can transfer food to a cooler and fill with ice or frozen gel packs. Make sure there is enough ice to keep food in the cooler at 40°F or below. Add more ice to the cooler as it begins to melt.
  • If you have a food thermometer, throw away any food in the refrigerator or freezer that is warmer than 45° F. If you don’t have a thermometer, throw out any food that has not been in a working refrigerator for more than four hours. Foods that remain frozen are not a risk.
  • Either eat or freeze leftover foods right away, particularly meats, seafood, dairy products, cooked potatoes and rice.
  • If in doubt, throw it out. Never taste suspicious food. It may look and smell fine, but the bacteria that cause foodborne illness may have grown on the food and will make you sick.
  • If you work at a food establishment, follow Public Health’s instructions for food safety during a power outage.

How can I help others?

  • If you know someone who has lost electricity, invite them to your home to stay warm.
  • Warn others about carbon monoxide poisoning. Share the information with neighbors, friends, family and community groups.
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially if they are elderly or if you think their power might be out.

For more information about food safety during power outages: Keep Your Food Safe During Emergencies: Power Outages, Floods & Fires (

For more winter weather updates from King County: King County Emergency News

Originally published on December 21, 2022.

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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.