A car covered in snow in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, on February 23, 2023. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

As this week’s snowstorm dropped more than a foot of snow in the Twin Cities, a downpour of alerts and news also hit some residents’ phones.

Local governments kept residents informed about snow emergency alerts and parking restrictions that help cities plow snow-clogged streets. Residents were reminded to move their vehicles or risk getting ticketed or towed. But a section of the community wasn’t as up-to-date on the developments—non-English speakers.

St. Paul offers snow emergency alerts via text message in multiple foreign languages. Their alerts note when plowing starts before linking to a city website for updates. Minneapolis’ text message alerts are only available in English, and simply state that a snow emergency has been declared while directing users to a link with more information. 

The Minneapolis link leads to a website with information in English about snow emergency times, dates, and parking information. It also features considerably abbreviated alerts in three foreign languages and an informational phone number at the bottom. Most of the English information is not translated on the website. 

St. Paul, Minneapolis, and several suburbs surveyed by Sahan Journal provide some degree of foreign language information on their websites. But some community groups and activists say they’re filling in the gaps by translating snow emergency alerts and sharing them with community members via social media. 

“We were doing this for years, so we don’t even think about it any longer,” said Marlon Ferrey, the information center manager at Centro Tyrone Guzman, a multi-service organization that caters to the Latino community. “We’re just like, ‘Yep, this is important; translate it and give it to the people.’”

Community groups like Centro Tyrone Guzman and individuals took to social media this week to remind non-English speaking residents about parking restrictions and other vital information related to the snowstorm.

A survey of several suburbs showed they don’t declare snow emergencies in the same vein as St. Paul and Minneapolis, but also don’t offer foreign-language text message alerts for heavy snow events.

Saint Paul is trying to tackle the problem head on, said city spokesperson Lisa Hiebert. Of the handful of cities surveyed by Sahan Journal, St. Paul is the only one that offers separate multilingual text alerts during snow emergencies.

“It’s really important that we try to eliminate as many barriers for people to know and learn the parking rules and regulations,” Hiebert said. “And for people who English isn’t their native or first language or even second language, it gets really hard.”

Minneapolis doesn’t offer separate multilingual text alerts, but city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie said the link in its alerts offer a helpline and shorter alerts in Spanish, Somali, and Hmong.

Many cities in the area have multilingual snow emergency information on their websites, along with detailed information about parking.

Residents can also call 311 in Minneapolis, and many cities, including Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, offer an on-demand interpretation service for people who call or visit city offices seeking information on a variety of topics, including snow events.

St. Paul’s text and email alerts are individually available for Spanish, Hmong, Somali, and Oromo speakers. The translated alerts contain the same information available in the English version, including dates and times of a snow emergency. All alerts direct residents to the city’s website for more information.

The link on non-English text alerts leads to the city’s website in English, but the information can be translated with the website’s translation feature.

“We try to put that real basic information and link them back to our webpage… which does have the translate feature up there,” Hiebert said.

A row of cars in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, on February 23, 2023. Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

As of February, St. Paul’s text message and email snow emergency alerts had 120,749 subscribers for English; 3,682 for Spanish; 3,592 for Hmong; 3,478 for Somali; and 2,434 for Oromo.

Roseville “technically” doesn’t have snow emergencies like some cities, said Corey Yunke, Roseville’s community relations manager. Instead, he said, the city automatically restricts on-street parking when there is a snowfall of two inches or more.

Roseville sends emails and text message alerts in English when parking restrictions are in place, and encourages residents to follow @RosevilleSnowplows on Twitter where they update plowing progress. 

Roseville doesn’t offer multilingual text or email alerts. Yunke said that’s because the city conducted research a few years ago and found that most snow parking violations occurred around multi-family buildings. The city asked property managers about how to best communicate with their tenants. Based on their input, he said, the city created door hangers in multiple languages and worked with property management staff to keep residents informed.

“Increasing our translated communications is one of our communication goals that we’re working toward,” Yunke said.

According to Hiebert, one of the biggest impacts on people during snow emergencies is the cost of having their vehicle ticketed or towed. 

“We know that snow emergencies are really hard, and they tend to have a larger financial impact on those people who have language barriers, because they didn’t know that they needed to move their car and they didn’t know what the rules were,” she said.

St. Paul tows between 700 and 900 cars and issues about 2,200 tickets for each snow emergency, according to Hiebert.

Minneapolis tows fewer vehicles than St. Paul per snow emergency, but issues more than twice the amount of tickets on average, according to data provided by the city. 

Minneapolis towed an average of 549 vehicles during snow emergencies in 2022 and 2023, and ticketed an average of 4,959 vehicles in the same timeframe. Numbers from this week’s snow emergency were not included.

How to get multilingual snow emergency information:

  • Minneapolis posts multilingual information at the bottom of their website on the snow season page. They also have informative videos on parking in other languages.
  • St. Paul also has information on its website along with sign-up links to receive information in multiple languages. 
  • St. Louis Park snow emergency alerts can be translated to Spanish, Russian, Somali and Amharic by using the buttons embedded in the emails
  • Other cities like Bloomington, Brooklyn Park, and Roseville offer translated information in multiple languages on their websites. There are no translations available on their social media accounts or in their text and email alerts. 

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...