Sunday marks the official start of winter, but taking a look at the forecast and the weather we've had, winter seems like it's already here. Now a new survey from the Public Utility Commission says less people are able to heat their houses during the cold months.

Every year, the PUC conducts a cold weather survey to see just how many people are without heat, or possibly using unsafe heating methods. Not suprisingly the numbers are higher this year. Statewide, the survey said over 14,000 people will enter the winter season with no heat, up 4 percent from last year. But according to the survey, two of the big gas companies in our area are showing a mixed reaction to the tough economic climate.

First, Columbia Gas reports they have remained relatively steady in their number of households without service because of terminations. It averaged 1,272 between the years of 2003 to 2006. That number dropping a bit to 1,179 last year but is once again on the rise, topping out this year at 1,250.

Just the opposite, UGI gas has seen over a 20 percent increase in shutoffs this year, compared to last. Between 2003 and 2006, the company averaged 1,332 a year. Last year, that number stayed relatively constant at 1,366. But this year, the number has swelled to 1,719.

According to the PUC, over 50 percent of the shutoffs are around the Philadelphia region. But they also say one of the most concerning statistics is that many people are using unsafe heating methods. Whatever the situation, officials say if you happen to be without heat, contact them sooner than later because there are plenty of opportunities to try and get the problem fixed.