Be prepared with winter’s chilly arrival

The arrival of winter weather in Minnesota means it’s time to act and have our needs met. Some of us […]

Street with cars lined on it covered with snow.

The arrival of winter weather in Minnesota means it’s time to act and have our needs met. Some of us might remember sitting around the radio or TV on winter mornings, listening for school to be canceled. Today’s weather information is relayed through numerous phone alerts and apps, helping everyone track changing weather conditions, approaching storms and local snow emergencies. Have a plan to get timely information. 

Sidewalk safety 

Getting around after snowy weather can be challenging, especially for people with disabilities who don’t drive. The fear of falling and sustaining serious or fatal injuries because someone didn’t clear snow and ice from sidewalks, steps or curb ramps is all too real. 

Most communities have a set time limit for when snow and ice must be removed from sidewalks and curb ramps, so check websites to see what the rules are in a particular community. The clock usually starts ticking when the snow or sleet stop falling, with a 24 to 48-hour time limit. Fines can be assessed to those who don’t clear paths in a timely manner and violators should be reported. Communities typically put this information on their websites. 

People with disabilities can contact Disability Hub to ask about snow removal resources. Elders can check with the Senior Linkage Line. Be aware there may be costs associated with snow removal referrals. 

In St. Paul, a group of volunteers called the Saintly City Snow Angels can help people with disabilities with free snow removal. The group is in need of volunteers. Contact the group through Facebook, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/108305797824732  

Other cities may have block nurse groups or community services groups that can provide snow removal help. 

Salt, sand, clay cat litter or deicers should be kept on hand for home sidewalks, ramps and steps. Some cities give away sand but it must be picked up at a public works facility. 

Energy assistance available 

Rising energy bills on top of other soaring household costs are causing stress for many households. Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule is a state law that protects residential utility customers from having electric or natural gas service shut off between October 1 and April 30. To protect service from disconnection, consumers must make and keep up with a payment plan that the utility agrees to. 

A payment plan can be set up at any time the Cold Weather Rule is in effect. Protection under the rule is available to home owners and to renters who pay their own heating utilities. 

All natural gas and electric utilities must offer protection under the Cold Weather Rule. The rule doesn’t apply to delivered fuels; oil and propane or wood. But if a furnace that operates on delivered fuels is run by electricity, Cold Weather Rule help can be sought through the electric company. 

Call the natural gas, electric, municipal utility or electric cooperative for more information, or contact the Commission’s Consumer Affairs Office at consumer.puc@state.mn.us or 651-296-0406, 1-800-657-3782. Or visit https://tinyurl.com/mryn7555 

Households that meet income guidelines can also seek help through the state’s Energy Assistance Program. The program pays toward heat, electricity and past due water costs. Energy Assistance is free for all eligible households. Applications for the program year 2022-2023 are available, through community partners around Minnesota. 

The state website explains the application process. Visit https://mn.gov/commerce/consumers/consumer-assistance/energy-assistance/ 

For helping in finding the local energy assistance partner to work with, check the website or call 1-800-657-3710. 

The average grant is more than $500, with a limit of up to $2,000 per household. Grants are based on household size, income and utility costs. Grant go directly to the service provider. The program is open to renters and homeowners. 

The program also has the capacity to arrange emergency fuel delivery, and repair or replace homeowners’ broken heating systems. Go to https://mn.gov/commerce/consumers/consumer-assistance/energy-assistance/ for details. 

Also, look at ways to keep a home or apartment warm. Close drapes or use heavy blankets to keep cold air out. Weatherstrip and seal doors and windows. Even a rolled-up rug by a door can keep out the chill. 

Prepare emergency kits 

Be ready at home and on the road if winter weather becomes severe. Make sure an adequate supply of food and water for people and pets is on hand at home. Make sure medication refills are up to date.  

Have extra blankets, flashlights and candles on hand in the event of a power outage. Keep cell phones and other devices charged. Have a place to go ready if medical equipment that runs on electricity is needed.  

Driving and worried about getting stranded? A vehicle motor and heater can 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 with a flashlight with extra batteries, cell phone charger with vehicle-powered 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 a service animal travels along. 

Put matches, a metal can and small candles in a container, to use to melt snow for drinking water. Eating snow lowers body temperature. 

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

More winter safety tips will be featured on the Access Press website. 

Join Us! 2023 Virtual Legislative Forum: December 16th, 2022 - MN Council on Disability