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9 things to know about Minneapolis-St. Paul snowstorm response plans and how you can help

Where and when should I move my car? Should I put my trash out? Answers to these, and other important questions as the Twin Cities straps in for a potential record-breaking storm.

officials speak at a news conference with snow plow in the background.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and other city officials looking on, speaks to reporters Tuesday ahead of a major winter storm in the Twin Cities.
Kyle Stokes

For the rest of this week, maintenance worker Nathaniel Bailey will be behind the wheel of a Minneapolis snow plow, hard at work, pulling twelve hour shifts, helping clear what could be a foot-and-a-half of snow off of city streets.

But that’s not how Bailey puts it to his kids.

“I tell my children I’ve got a big boy truck,” he said, beaming, “and I get to play in the snow all day. They get happy about it.”

Bailey gets happy about it, too. There’s something gratifying about plowing, watching how far his heavy rig can throw the snow.

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“It’s even more satisfying at the end,” said Bailey, who’s been with the city’s Public Works department for six years, “when you drive down the streets like, ‘Hey, I did that.’”

A man stands in front of a snow plow.
Kyle Stokes
City of Minneapolis maintenance worker Nathaniel Bailey: "If you've been through it before, learn from your mistakes. Move. Your. Car. Yeah, it’s important.”
On Tuesday, the mayors, public works directors and schools superintendents in both Minneapolis and St. Paul outlined their plans for dealing with what could be — if the forecasts hold true — a Top 10 snowfall event in Twin Cities history.

Even if it doesn’t ultimately topple records, more snow means no rest for the weary: After the fifth-snowiest start to winter on record, Minneapolis moved in January to restrict parking on many residential streets. St. Paul made extraordinary attempts to clear snow-rutted roads that were ultimately delayed by yet another January snowstorm.

“We are prepared,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said, “for what will likely be an historic snow event.”

Here’s what you need to know about how Minnesota’s two biggest cities are preparing for the snowstorm — along with a few tried-and-true-but-always-useful reminders:

1) Snow emergencies are already lined up

St. Paul officials have already taken the “extraordinary step” of declaring back-to-back snow emergencies. The restrictions from those emergencies in the capital city will continue through at least Friday night — and likely into the weekend. St. Paul officials warn against parking on any unplowed “Day Plow Route” into the weekend until that street has been cleared.

Minneapolis’ public works director, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, said she anticipates the city will also declare a snow emergency Wednesday night. However, Minneapolis already has winter parking restrictions in place, which may alleviate the need for a second snow emergency on Thursday night, Anderson Kelliher said.

2) Get your car off the streets

Why futz with moving your cars over streets that will likely be difficult to navigate?

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While behind the wheel of his plow, Bailey says he often has to bury cars left on the street during snow emergencies: “If you’ve been through it before, learn from your mistakes. Move. Your. Car. Yeah, it’s important.”

As of Tuesday morning, Minneapolis had opened 1,600 spaces in five different lots for residents who need an off-street parking option; parking in those spaces will be free through Tuesday, Feb. 28. City officials also say some private ramp owners have opened an additional 1,000 covered spaces for free parking, and downtown’s Ramp A will offer $1-per-day discounted parking in an additional 3,500 spaces through Feb. 28

Starting Wednesday evening, St. Paul will open free parking in seven city-owned ramps downtown, which together boast more than 6,000 spaces.

3) Be patient: Plowing and towing could take an unusually long time

Forecasts call for two waves of snow, with a lull Wednesday afternoon and the heaviest bands hitting later that day and into Thursday — hence the need for two straight days of snow emergencies in St. Paul. 

The city’s public works director, Sean Kershaw, said St. Paul crews’ goal in the first phase of plowing “will not be to eliminate all the snow … The goal of the first phase is to make the streets of St. Paul safe and passable for emergency vehicles.”

Crews in both cities will be ticketing illegally-parked vehicles and calling for tows, but tow trucks are also likely to be tied up on freeways. If you don’t move your car off the street in time, or get caught in an accident, you could face a long wait for help.

Anderson Kelliher also said city crews will have to postpone some winter weather tasks: “Normally we’re removing snow from corners. Normally we are getting snow out of downtown. It is going to take a few days to get those things done because of the volume of snow that we will be seeing.”

4) Experiencing homelessness? There are shelter beds available

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The weather “is going to be extreme, and it’s going to get cold,” especially on Friday, Anderson Kelliher said — underscoring the need for care for people living outdoors. She didn’t have exact figures on how many spots were open in Hennepin County shelters, though Anderson Kelliher said there are beds available.

“We are working to potentially provide some warming spaces for residents in Minneapolis,” she said, “and more information will come on that, should it be needed.”

Mayor Melvin Carter said St. Paul’s homeless assistance response team “is doing outreach” to people living outdoors, though he also didn’t know how many beds were available. Ramsey County offers various shelter options.

5) Schools are going virtual

Minneapolis Public Schools will hold virtual learning days for all students on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, canceling all in-person early childhood classes, community education classes, athletics or activities.

“If parents feel like their students need a snow day during this extraordinary event, that is their call,” interim Minneapolis superintendent Rochelle Cox said at Tuesday’s press conference.

But the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t completely snuff out the snow day: St. Paul will cancel classes completely on Friday after virtual learning days on Wednesday and Thursday.

However, two state high school tournaments in downtown St. Paul — the girls’ hockey and gymnastics events — are still on as planned over the next several days: “Teams are encouraged to watch the weather and make travel plans accordingly,” according to a statement from the Minnesota State High School League.

6) Some trash pickup delayed in St. Paul; Minneapolis TBD

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St. Paul is suspending garbage and recycling pickups on Thursday and Friday, Kershaw said, so leave your carts inside.

Minneapolis is still deciding whether to delay pickup.

“Everyone’s alley in Minneapolis should be plowed at least once a day through the storm,” Anderson Kelliher said, and the city tries to time those plowings around waste pickups — but if crews get overwhelmed or hauling trucks start getting stuck, the city will re-evaluate that service, she said

7) Clear your sidewalks!

In St. Paul and Minneapolis, property owners are responsible for ensuring pedestrian paths on their properties are clear. Ordinances in St. Paul and Minneapolis require residents to clear their walks within 24 hours after the snow stops falling.

There’s movement afoot in Minneapolis for the city to take over some sidewalk plowing, but it’s still just an idea.

8) Remember to keep vents, fire hydrants and utility meters clear

More people tend to fire up their fireplaces and wood stoves during cold snaps and winter storms. The state’s Department of Public Safety warns this often leads to a spike in carbon monoxide poisoning incidents — so check your outdoor furnace, dryer, fireplace or oven vents.

Xcel Energy also urged Minnesotans to keep natural gas meters clear of snow or ice, which helps avoid “dangerous natural gas buildup indoors.” Also, clear 3-foot paths around fire hydrants to save crews precious time in case of an emergency.

9) Building an emergency kit?

Here’s what you should include in a home kit — in case of a power outage: a battery-powered radio or television, flashlights, batteries, back-up phone chargers, bottled water, nonperishable food and first aid supplies, according to Xcel Energy.

In your car, the Department of Public Safety recommends packing boots, jackets, gloves, blankets, booster cables, basic tools, sand or cat litter, a red bandana, a pencil and paper.