Winter's cold returns
Winter is here.
While Minnesotans know to expect snow, ice and frigid temperatures in December, the shift from a relatively warm November was substantial.
November brought almost no snowfall and temperatures were regularly above freezing. And those warm temperatures continued for a few days into the last month of 2013.
But after a couple highs in the mid-30s, temperatures quickly dropped in December to single digits, with a low of minus 2 degrees by Dec. 5.
Xcel Energy and the Minnesota Department of Commerce offer some tips for making sure homes are ready for winter and keeping energy efficient in the cold months.
•Prepare the furnace: check the pilot light, vacuum out and dust or debris in or around the unit, replace the filter if needed and check the flue for gaps to dents and make sure it is venting properly.
•Use a match to check windows and doors for drafts, and install weather stripping or other coverings as needed.
•Create a clear area around heat vents. Don’t block with furniture, rugs or decorations.
•Outside, shut off valves to outdoor faucets. You can also trim back bushes and trees around your home’s windows to better take advantage of the sun’s warmth.
•Use a programmable thermostat, or turn down the temperature when you’re going to be away from home for an extended period of time.
•You also can turn down your thermostat when you’re planning to entertain. The added heat from visitors and from ovens and hot foods will warm up the house without having to turn the temperature up.
•Close your fireplace damper when you’re not having a fire and install airtight doors to prevent warm air from escaping.
Septic systems in particular can take extra care in the winter.
Snow can actually be good for the systems, said Dan Olson, MPCA public information officer.
“Snow helps to insulate septic systems and keep them from freezing,” he said. But some areas of the state still have little snow cover.
Here are some tips from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to keep systems from freezing or becoming damaged in the winter:
•Place a layer of insulation 8 to 12 inches thick over the pipes and tank area. This insulation can be straw, leaves or other loose material that will stay in place and not become compacted.
•If you're worried that your system is starting to freeze, use water — the warmer the better — as regularly as possible. Take hot baths, run laundry and use the dishwasher. But don’t leave water running constantly, because that can overload the system.
•Have someone run warm water in your home if you plan to be gone for an extended period of time, or have the septic tank pumped before you leave.
•Keep all vehicles, animal and human traffic off the system. This is a good rule to follow all year long as compacted snow and soils cause frost to go down deeper and faster. Pay special attention to the area between the house and the septic tank.
•Make sure lids are closed tight and the system is sealed properly.
•Do not put antifreeze or salt into the system.
More information is available at http://septic.umn.edu/.
While the cold can mean headaches for homeowners, the jump into winter still will be embraced by many. Anyone eager to go cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling or enjoy other winter activities will find many opportunities at Minnesota state parks and trails thanks to the snowfall throughout the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
“The recent heavy snowfall and the forecast for sustained cold temperatures offers prospects of substantial, enduring snow cover deep into the month,” said Greg Spoden, state climatologist at the DNR. “It will be the best start to the winter recreation season since 2010.”
Snow depth and trail conditions are updated every Thursday after 2 p.m. at www.mndnr.gov/snow during the winter months.
November by the numbers
High: 55 degrees on Nov. 3
Low: 4 degrees on Nov. 23 and 24
Average daily high: 38.5 degrees
Average daily low: 22.2 degrees
Precipitation: 0.62 inches of rain; .02 inches of snow
Sources: U.S. Lock & Dam No. 3, Red Wing Waste Water Treatment Plant