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COLD WEATHER WARNINGS: Staying warm in extreme chill

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) -- The cold snap continues, and not just for Midwesterners.

Extreme cold is blanketing much of the country and breaking weather records. In Texas, a historic weather maker is causing millions to go without power.

"I feel for them and my heart goes out to them," People's Energy Cooperative Director of Cooperative Relations Gwen Stevens said. "I think they are getting a double whammy with the freezing cold and snow."

Cold is still very much impacting southeast Minnesota and northern Iowa. So, why aren't there any power outages here?

"When you have that wet snow, or that sleet, that has a lot of moisture in it," Stevens said. "And if it freezes to the power lines or the power equipment and the winds picks it up, it can damage the equipment and that's where you can get a lot of power outages."

Stevens suspects drivers who don't typically have experience driving in the snow, like people in Texas, may crash into power lines and cause outages that way as well.

Here in Minnesota, The People's Energy Cooperative, along with MiEngery Cooperative have issued a peak energy alert; asking users to conserve energy, so services can keep up with the demand. Both services suggest refraining to use washing and drying machines or ovens all at once to avoid a high energy demand.

"A lot of people are using energy all at the same time," she said. "Even the littlest steps like reducing the temperature by two degrees, it can really have an impact."

People's Co-op does have a bill budgeting program that allows its users to avoid a spike in utility bills during extreme cold or extreme hot months. The monthly budget is calculated by averaging the actual billing for the previous 12 months. The budget amount is then recalculated every July. Stevens says out of its roughly 24,000 accounts, just 1,000 people enroll in the program.

Plummeting temperatures are also impacting your home's heating and cooling systems.

"We've had 100s of calls in the last week," Gary Katz of Total Comfort said.

It's typical to see a rush of service calls during extreme hot and cold. To avoid your furnace quitting on you, Katz recommends three things. First, check and clean your filter. Often times filters need to be cleaned or replaced annually.

"If it's even a little bit dirty, put a new one in," Katz said. "That's something you can do yourself."

Second, keep your the thermostat at your home at a consistent temperature.

"Make sure its set to hold that temperature rather than work off of a program this time of year," he said.

And lastly, treat your heating and cooling system, like you would your car.

"We don't really have to change the oil on our car. It's not going to break every six months if we don't change the oil," Katz explained. "But, when it does break. It's going to break badly. If you neglect it for a lot of years. New ones are even more finicky than the old ones."

He recommends getting your furnace checked out annually. When in doubt, call a professional.

Katz also recommends buying a new furnace during the months when its not burning hot or freezing cold.

"It's just like the airlines. We've all learned when you want fly somewhere to buy a ticket a month or two in advance. You don't want to wait a day or two before because you'll pay a lot more," Katz said. "It's the same in our business. We recommend getting a maintenance plan or get maintenance cheaper when its not a peak temperature outside. That means you don't have to typically worry about calling when it is 20 below zero."

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Beret Leone

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