Be prepared, stay safe during winter weather

Be prepared, stay safe during winter weather
Image of sideview mirror of car with a view of a snow storm.

Minnesotans with disabilities know that winter can be isolating and sometimes dangerous. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t make things easier. From getting around outside to staying safe and warm indoors, there’s a wealth of information out there.

One thing to consider is keeping one’s home warm, which is  expected to cost more this winter. Cold weather and rising costs will be a double whammy. Anyone worried about high home energy bills and inability to pay this winter should look into assistance right away.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration has predicted average households that use natural gas for heating could spend $746 over the winter. That is about 30 percent more than last year.

Dwellings heated with propane, heating oil or electricity won’t be spared cost increases. Propane could have increases of almost 100 percent. Midwestern homes can expect to spend an average of $1,805 over the winter. Propane heat is often used in smaller communities and rural areas.

The Minnesota Energy Assistance Program has been distributing millions in assistance grants to help cover winter heating costs. The program has been expanded this year to help more low-income households. It assists households at or below 60 percent of the state median income.

Local providers such as community action programs help process applications and distribute the funds. The state program also offers grants to help households repair and replace furnaces and make home energy efficiency improvements. That can hold down future costs.

Applicants must work with their local energy assistance provider. Find a local assistance provider by calling 1-800-657-3710. Learn how to apply at https://mn.gov/energyassistance.

Be safe when driving

An array of phone apps and alerts make it easier than ever to follow changing weather conditions, local snow emergencies and road closures.

Those who drive need to be alert not just for snow but for cold conditions that can create frosty or icy bridge decks, overpasses and ramps. Driving surfaces on bridges can freeze sooner than the roadway because the highway structures are not insulated by the ground. Even though the main roadway may appear relatively safe, the bridge decks may be frosty or icy, particularly in early morning and late evening hours.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) provides safe driving tips. Call 511 or visit 511mn.org to check current road conditions before heading out. Turn on headlights and wear seatbelts. Pay full attention when driving. Slow down and provide more room between vehicles. Don’t use cruise control.

Watch for snow plows and never drive into a snow cloud. Stay at least 10 car lengths behind the snowplow. The road behind a snowplow is safer to drive on. Watch for snowplows that turn or exit frequently, often with little warning.

Two great sources for winter driving tips are at mndot.gov/workzone/winter.html or the U.S. Department of Transportation at www.nhtsa.gov/winter-driving-tips.

Prepare vehicles in advance

A winter driving kit, and extra clothing and blankets, can be lifesaving if a vehicle is stranded in winter conditions. Being stranded can be very dangerous. A vehicle cannot be counted on to keep its occupants warm.

Move to the side of the road and wait for help inside the vehicle. Use flashers. Raise the hood if it isn’t snowing, raining or windy.

A vehicle motor and heater can be run for about 10 minutes per hour. Open a window slightly for fresh air and make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow, to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Make a winter survival kit. Pack a container or bag with a flashlight with extra batteries, cell phone charger with an adapter for the vehicle, battery-powered radio, water and food. Pack energy bars, raisins, candy bars and things that can be eaten without preparation. Include pet food and extra water if an assistance animal travels along.

Put matches, a metal can and small candles in the kit. That can be used to melt snow for drinking water. Eating snow lowers body temperature.

Remember a shovel, windshield scraper and small broom. Pack some road salt, sand or clay cat litter for traction. A tow chain or rope are good to carry, as are jumper or booster cables. Roadside flares, reflectors, a distress flag or bright cloth and a whistle can help a stranded motorist get attention.

Going out and about

Walking or wheeling on ice and snow can be dangerous. Falls can cause serious and even fatal injuries. Stock up on salt, sand, clay cat litter or chemical deicers for increased stability on sidewalks. Some communities give away free sand, but it usually must be picked up.

Slip-on cleats that can be put on the bottoms of boots and shoes are a great help.

Most communities require sidewalks to be cleared within 24 to 48 hours after snow stops falling. Report unshoveled sidewalks and bus stops, and streets and roads that haven’t been plowed. Some communities have information and complaint hotlines to report sidewalks that aren’t cleared. Transit services also may have complaint lines if a bus, paratransit or train stop isn’t cleared.

Property owners can be fined if a city crew must do the shoveling.

Stay safe indoors

Loss of power during the winter can be very dangerous. Prepare for power outages, especially in rural areas. Be ready for a week without access to food, water and electricity. Have drinking water, canned food and a manual can opener. Stock up on foods that can be eaten without cooking.

Service animals’ needs also should be considered. Stockpile needed pet food and water

Have a supply of prescription and non-protection drugs. Have a first aid kit. Make sure flashlights and battery-powered lanterns are working, and extra batteries are on hand. To reduce accidental fire risks, don’t use candles.

Be careful with space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces as those can cause burns, start fires or in some cases add to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure home carbon monoxide and smoke alarms are in good working order.

Close off rooms that aren’t in use to conserve heat. Close drapes or cover windows with blankets at night. Stuff towels or rugs beneath cracks under doors.

Extreme cold can cause home water pipes to freeze and sometimes rupture. When very cold temperatures are expected, leave all water faucets slightly open so they drip continuously. Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes.

Two good all-purpose websites provide useful winter resources. One is www.minnesotahelp.info to find both Senior Linkage Line and Disability Hub websites and more. Another good website is www.disability.state.mn.us/emergency-preparedness, overseen by the Minnesota Council on Disability.