South Florida cold spell: Tips and resources to stay safe

Take care of your family and pets; Shelter available for homeless

MIAMI – Dangers lurk as South Floridians try to stay warm during sudden cold snaps like the one expected this weekend, Miami Fire Lt. Pete Sanchez says.

When it comes to space heaters, skip using an extension cord or surge protector. Sanchez says they need to be plugged directly into a wall outlet. They should also be kept on the floor, away from water, off the furniture and three feet away from anything flammable like curtains, pillows or bedding.

“You also want to be careful with children and pets,” he says. “They can trip on it and get burned.”

Sanchez says you should never try to heat your home with your oven or stove.

You should also consider the furry members of your family.

“If it is too cold for you, it is probably too cold for your pets,” says Flora Beal of Miami-Dade Animal Control. “So you want to make sure you bring them inside, make sure they have plenty of blankets.”

She also points out: “When you go to turn your car on, remember, a lot of cats and small animals will crawl into your engine because they are trying to keep warm in this cold weather. ... So when you go to turn on your car, bang on your hood, or honk your horns to make sure any small animals, kittens, that might have crawled into the engine do come out before you turn your engine on.”

Tips for the cold

For your home (courtesy of Miami Fire Rescue Lt. Pete Sanchez):

  • Install and test carbon monoxide alarms.
  • Keep anything that can burn (curtains, drapes, furniture) at least 3 feet away from any heat source such as a space heater.
  • Plug only one heat-producing appliance (such as a space heater) into an electrical outlet at a time. Plug directly into the wall; do not try to connect with an extension cord. Watch out for pets and kids, making sure they don’t trip over it or accidentally tip it over or put something on top of it that can catch fire.
  • Never use an oven to heat your home.
  • Turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to bed.
  • Check on your elderly neighbors and make sure they have everything they need.
  • Since we so rarely use our heaters in South Florida, when you first turn on the heat you may smell an odd smell that’s typically normal, but you should not see smoke.

For pets (courtesy of Flora Beal from Miami-Dade Animal Control):

  • Remember that if it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your pets. They’re not used to this chill either.
  • Keep pets indoors if you can.
  • Provide pets with warm beds and blankets to help them keep warm.
  • Make sure to have plenty of food, clean drinking water and toys.

For more cold-weather safety tips, click here.

Resources for the homeless

The Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust opened its shelters on Friday afternoon after counting about 900 people who need shelter ahead of the drop in temperature. 

Members of the group were walking the streets Friday to offer assistance.

“On the streets in this kind of weather condition is really sentencing somebody to die,” says Ron Book, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust. “When you walk around here you will see a lot of people in their 70s and 80s.”

Book says he was confident there would be enough beds for everyone, and that everyone would be tested for COVID-19 upon check-in, a protocol that has been in place for 23 months. Anyone who tests positive will stay in a separate area.

Maj. Stephen Long, the Salvation Army area commander, says they have extra cots ready to go in Broward County.

“We want people to come in off the street,” he says. “We don’t want anyone to suffer from the cold.”

If you need a homeless shelter in Miami-Dade, call 1-877-994-4357 or 305-375-2273.

In Broward, you can report to the Salvation Army in Fort Lauderdale (1445 W. Broward Blvd.), South Homeless Assistance Center in Hollywood (2056 Scott St.) or Broward Partnership for the Homeless in Pompano Beach (1700 Blount Rd.) no later than 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights. Space is limited. For more information, call 954-563-4357.

For the latest forecast information, click here to visit the Weather Authority page.

About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."