As storms last month dropped lots of snow in the Twin Cities, an avalanche of alerts and news hit residents' phones, reminding them to move their vehicles or risk getting ticketed or towed.

But a section of the community wasn't able to keep up to date on storm developments: non-English speakers. That's because Minneapolis and several suburbs surveyed by Sahan Journal largely don't translate their text messages and alerts.

St. Paul offers snow emergency alerts via text message in multiple foreign languages, noting when plowing starts before linking to a city website for updates. But Minneapolis' text alerts are given only in English and simply state that a snow emergency has been declared while directing users to a website in English — most of which isn't translated — along with abbreviated alerts in three other languages.

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, information center manager at Centro Tyrone Guzman, a south Minneapolis multiservice 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 such as Centro Tyrone Guzman and private individuals took to social media last month to remind non-English speaking residents about parking restrictions and other information related to the snowstorms.

St. Paul is tackling the problem head-on, said city spokesperson Lisa Hiebert. Of the handful of cities surveyed, St. Paul was the only one to offer multilingual text alerts during snow emergencies — for Spanish, Hmong, Somali and Oromo speakers.

"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 whose English isn't their native or first language or even second language, it gets really hard."

Minneapolis doesn't offer multilingual text alerts, but spokesperson Sarah McKenzie said its alerts link to a helpline and shorter alerts in Spanish, Somali and Hmong. Minneapolis residents can also call 311 to get information or report an issue.

Many metro area 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. Others have multilingual snow emergency information on their websites.

St. Paul's translated text and email alerts contain the same information it makes available in English, 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, which offers a 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.

As of February, St. Paul's text message and email snow emergency alerts had about 3,700 subscribers in Spanish, 3,600 in Hmong, 3,500 in Somali and 2,400 in Oromo. Nearly 121,000 subscribe to the alerts in English.

Roseville doesn't offer multilingual text or email alerts when it needs to restrict on-street parking due to snow, said Corey Yunke, the city's community relations manager. But city officials create door hangers in multiple languages to communicate with tenants in multifamily buildings, where they found that most snow parking violations occur. The city sends emails and text message alerts in English when parking restrictions are in place.

"Increasing our translated communications is one of our communication goals that we're working toward," Yunke said.

One of the biggest impacts on people during snow emergencies is the cost of having their vehicle ticketed or towed, Hiebert said. St. Paul tows between 700 and 900 cars and issues about 2,200 tickets for each snow emergency.

"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.

Minneapolis typically tows fewer vehicles than St. Paul in a snow emergency but issues more than twice the number of tickets on average, according to city data. The city towed an average of 549 vehicles per snow emergency in 2022 and so far this year, and it ticketed an average of 4,959 vehicles in the same period.

Here's how to get multilingual snow emergency information on the web:

  • Minneapolis posts multilingual information at the bottom of its website on the snow season page. The city also offers informative videos on parking in other languages.
  • St. Paul has information on its website along with signup links to receive information in several languages. The St. Paul Public Works Twitter page posts updates and graphics in various languages.
  • St. Louis Park's snow emergency alerts can be translated to Spanish, Russian, Somali and Amharic by using the buttons embedded in the emails
  • Other cities, such as Bloomington, Brooklyn Park and Roseville, offer information in multiple languages on their websites. Translations aren't available on their social media accounts or in their text and email alerts.