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Preparing for a Midwest winter: Yeah, it’s time

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Winter is just around the corner, which means it is about time to pull out sweaters, scarves and coats from storage and switch the A/C to central heat.

The most important thing to remember about preparing for a Midwest winter is that cold temperatures, snow, ice and freezing rain are all common throughout the state beginning in November and lasting all the way through March. Indiana Residents should be prepared for anything, so we have put together a list of a few things to keep in mind as temperatures drop as well as a few local programs, resources and organizations that can help you best prepare for the coming cold months.

Money saving heating tips

AES announced a potential price increase, which would raise Indianapolis customers’ bills by nearly 19% for three months beginning in the fall. While the increase is attributed to the price of natural gas, according to an AES spokesperson, it comes at a time when many families are already struggling to make ends meet.

“AES Indiana maintains its commitment to reliably serve our customers with the least reasonable cost options today and into the future,” the company said in a statement.
AES Indiana participates in the Energy Assistance Program, United Way of Central Indiana’s Winter Assistance Fund, AES Indiana Power of Change program and more community-based programs.

Additionally, the AES Indiana website features a list of cold weather tips for customers to help reduce heating costs and save money — including setting thermostats back by at least eight degrees each day whenever occupants are at work or asleep. 

When it comes to the thermostat, do not set it higher than needed. This trick does not actually heat the house any faster and will run the system longer than necessary.

RELATED: AES Indiana releases Community Impact Report

Remember to change or clean the furnace air filter once per month  — as dust and dirt make the unit work harder — vacuum registers and vents, and keep furniture and curtains from blocking airflow. AES Indiana also recommends regular inspections and annual tune-ups to help the system work more efficiently.

Make sure to remove window A/C units and seal windows with caulk and weather stripping. Doors should also be sealed with weather stripping. Setting ceiling fans to turn clockwise in the winter and running them on low speed will help circulate warm air inexpensively.

Steer clear of space heaters, if possible. Operating them can be costly and dangerous if left unattended.

Advisories, watches and warnings

The National Weather Service breaks down winter weather into three levels of advisory: advisory, watch and warning. A winter advisory is the lowest level of advisory and indicates snow or blowing snow, ice or sleet are expected. These conditions usually are not expected to be particularly hazardous, but motorists should be cautious and prepare for winter driving conditions and potential difficulties.

A winter watch means a winter storm — heavy sleet, snow or ice, blowing snow or a combination — is expected. These conditions can threaten public safety, and only essential travel is recommended. Emergency action plans should be recommended. 

Lastly, a winter warning is the highest level of advisory and indicates heavy or blowing snow, sleet, ice or a combination. Travel will be difficult or impossible and may be restricted to emergency personnel only. Other motorists should refrain from driving.

Dos and don’ts for extreme cold

Hypothermia, a condition where the body loses heat faster than it can reproduce it, can take place at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of hypothermia include numbness, extreme fatigue, shivering, slurred speech, confusion or memory lost and discolored skin, according to Mayo Clinic.

If outside during inclement weather, make sure to bundle up in warm clothing, such as a hat, coat, gloves, scarf or knit face mask, thick socks and closed-toe shoes or boots to limit exposure. The National Weather Service recommends staying indoors as much as possible or taking breaks inside and limiting travel.

If traveling, keep a winter survival/emergency kit in your vehicle. These kits should include a bag of rock salt, antifreeze, jumper cables, shovel and ice scraper, snow boots, gloves, blanket, flashlight with extra batteries and a first aid kit.

Before hitting the roads, make sure to check tire pressure, antifreeze levels and that the heater and defroster work properly.
Do not leave animals or household pets outside without adequate shelter.

Warming shelters

Wheeler Mission Center for Men, located at 520 E. Market St., and Wheeler Mission Center for Women and Children, located at 3208 E. Michigan St., are both 24-hour shelters for those who are unhoused and need a place to escape cold weather.

RELATED: Wheeler Mission celebrates 130 years of service

Energy Assistance Program

The Energy Assistance program (EAP) is a federally funded program through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It provides eligible households with a one-time annual benefit to assist with high-cost home energy and utility bills if your heating and electricity is shut off or about to be shut off. 

The benefits are paid directly to the applicant’s utility vendor for heating and electric costs. However, it is important to remember EAP benefits do not cover all annual heating and electric costs and applicants should still pay bills regularly. Applications for EAP can be submitted via the online portal, by mail, in person or by calling 2-1-1.

The program features a rolling process, which began accepting applications Oct. 2. The program is open until May 20 but will start processing applications and submitting the first initial payments Nov. 2.

United Way of Central Indiana’s Winter Assistance Fund

United Way of Central Indiana for Marion County offers a Winter Assistance Fund (WAF) for Marion County residents who struggle with increased energy and utility costs but earn too much to qualify for EAP. The program runs from November to May.

There are no online applications, applicants must apply in person at one of the intake centers around Indiana.

Center Township Trustee’s Office

Tracy Boyd, executive assistant to Center Township Trustee LaDonna Freeman, said the Trustee’s office also partners with Indiana’s Energy Assistance Program and John Boner Community Center to help families fill out and submit applications.

Melody Barber-Hense, community outreach coordinator for the Center Township Trustee’s Office, said the Trustee’s Office also has a food assistance program where eligible families can pick up canned goods and nonperishable food items. “Food-Tique Clothing,” which opened earlier this year, provides essential clothing and personal hygiene items through the Forester Grant. Barber-Hense said both the boutique and food pantry are open during regular business hours.

The Trustee’s Office will offer free community dinners, Trunk or Treat and Second Chance Workshops throughout October through a program called A Fall to Remember.

Lastly, the Trustee’s Office is hosting a Winter Coat Drive in partnership with Light of the World Christian Church Sept.1 to Oct. 31. New and gently used coats, scarves, socks and gloves can be dropped off at the Julia M. Carson Government Center, 300 E. Fall Creek Parkway N. Drive, during regular business hours or at Light of the World, 4646 N. Michigan Road, on Sundays 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Mondays 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. 

Winter assistance program intake centers

Christamore House

502 N. Tremont St., Indianapolis, IN 46222

317-635-7211, ext. 231

Concord Center

1310 S. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46225

317-637-4376, ext. 18

Crooked Creek Center

2990 W. 71st St., Indianapolis, IN 46268

317-293-2600

Flanner House

2424 Martin Luther King St., Indianapolis, IN 46208

317-925-4231

Forest Manor Multi-Service Center

5603 E. 38th St., Indianapolis, IN 46218

317-545-1204

Hawthorne Community Center

2440 W. Ohio St., Indianapolis, IN 46222

317-637-4312

John Boner Center

2236 E. 10th St., Indianapolis, IN  46201

317-633-8210

Martin Luther King Center

40 W. 40th St., Indianapolis, IN 46208

317-923-4581

Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center

1920 W. Morris St., Indianapolis, IN 46221

317-639-6106

Southeast Community Center

901 Shelby St., Indianapolis, IN 46203

317-236-7400, ext. 228

For more information about the EAP program and other local winter assistance programs, visit centergov.org or in.gov/dhs/get-prepared/nature-safety/extreme-cold

Contact staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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