Baby, it’s cold outside
Baby, it’s cold outside …. and it’s likely going to stay that way for a little while longer. In fact, Gov. Tim Walz left it up to all schools in Minnesota to close or not on Tuesday and Wednesday because of the unfavorable Arctic air mass that has forced the mercury spiraling into sub-zero temperatures.
Most of the state’s schools were closed both days. The Minneota and Ivanhoe districts were closed Monday through Wednesday. It’s been five years since a continuing cold spell such as the one we are currently experiencing swept through this area.
“This is the coldest stretch since Jan. 5 to Jan. 9 of 2014 when we had 20 below (zero) lows in southern Minnesota,” KSTP-TV Meteorologist Jonathan Yuhas told the Mascot.
“If it gets to 30 below, that will be the first time since February of 1996.”
Five years ago, on Jan., 6, 2014, then- Gov. Mark Dayton ordered schools throughout the state to be closed because of dangerously cold wind-chill temperatures.
Generally, though, the decision to close school or to start late is left to administrators at each district. When determining late starts/cancellations for school due to severe cold, Minneota Superintendent Dan Deitte said there are several factors that go into the decision.
“Any advisories or warnings by the National Weather Service, or current road conditions,” Deitte said.
“Or whether having sunlight for late starts will dramatically improve the bus routes and driving, and also the potential of frostbite and other related issues.”
Deitte said the school also has a policy in which students are not permitted to go outdoors for recess if the temperature and/or wind chill is under zero degrees.
Minneota started school two hours late last Thursday because of the bitter cold, and then were hit by more snow and cold temperatures this week. “This cold air built up in Alaska and the Arctic during December and early January,” Yuhas explained.
“But now that mild temperatures in the 30s and 40s have moved into Alaska, it has pushed the cold air straight south into the lower 48 states east of the Rockies.”
“A typical winter pattern is mild in the Midwest, then cold in Alaska. And if it’s mild in Alaska, then it is bitter cold in the Midwest.”
But relief is coming soon. “Pacific air will move back into Minnesota around Feb. 4 and we could easily see temperatures above 40 by Feb. 6,” Yuhas predicted.
Until then, we’re forced to put up the frigid temperatures, biting winds, and snow that make life a little more difficult for everyone. Schools and bus drivers aren’t the only ones to find the sub-zero temperatures difficult to deal with.
Farmers still have to be out in the cold to tend to chores and to look after their animals. And occupations such as law enforcement personnel, mail carriers, sanitation collectors, city/county/state maintenance workers, electricians, plumbers, snowplow drivers, delivery drivers, firemen, EMT’s and many others simply can’t ignore their jobs.
For example, firemen can’t let a house burn down just because it’s cold, windy or snowing outside. Besides wind-chill advisories, the National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings each of the past two weeks for this area.
Gusts up to 40 mph with blowing and drifting snow, including whiteout conditions, make travel difficult.
“My advice is to stay back from a snowplow because you never know when your visibility will disappear,” said Kurt Gillund, a local snowplow driver.
“Make sure your headlights are on because vehicles (with automatic headlights) don’t know that visibility is bad; they just know that it’s light out.”
“If it’s bad enough (outside) to have school late or called off, make sure you give yourself enough time to get your family home safe; not last minute.”
Police Chief Bill Bolt also stresses the importance of using extreme caution when it’s absolutely necessary to venture out in blizzards and extreme cold.
“Don’t drive if you don’t have to,” he said. “Plan ahead and have layers of clothing and spare clothes in your vehicle.”
“It may sound dumb, but imagine if your vehicle (stalled) in the country or if you got stuck in a ditch. Help may be 30 minutes or more away and you are in a car that is quickly freezing. A few extra blankets, hats, gloves, etc., could be the difference between going home and going to the hospital.”
Bolt said the adverse weather also affects officers who must travel and get out of their vehicle when making traffic stops or assisting motorists.
“Cops hate the cold; especially when someone’s disregard for public safety requires us to venture out into it,” he said. “Over the years, I have tried every sort of item to stay warm.”
“What I have found is when the temperature drops to below zero, being warm is simply not going to happen. So I focus on staying safe by limiting my exposure to the wind and cold as much as possible, and avoid situations that result in me being trapped in the cold.”
Mail carriers and garbage collectors may be able to stay warm inside their vehicle, but often times they get frustrated when residents fail to keep their roads clean following a snowstorm or ground blizzard.
“We require that mailboxes be cleared 10 feet on each side,” said Minneota Postmaster Lois Verhelst. “If they aren’t cleared, we don’t deliver the mail there and we send them a letter explaining why.”
“We are rural carriers; which means that our drivers can’t put more than their arm out of their vehicle. They aren’t allowed to get out of their vehicle because they could get hurt if they slip and fall.”
Sanitation collecting can also be problematic during extreme weather conditions. “When it’s this cold, if affects the hydraulic system on the trucks,” said Nathan Schmig, who has worked for Olson Sanitation for the past five years.
“So we make sure we warm them up and once we get the arm-loader going the first time, it gets better after that. But if we stop for any length of time, the hydraulics tend to freeze up again.”
Besides Minneota and the rural area, Schmig also travels to Clarkfield, Canby, Madison, Hanley Falls, Wood Lake to collect trash.
“If the roads are bad, I just drive slower,” he said. “It’s a little easier to drive on roads with ice and snow when the truck is loaded.”
Focusing on the care of domestic animals is also paramount when the weather outside is frightful. Even though many people feel domestic animals can brave this type of weather, that’s not necessarily the case.
“As far as outdoor pets go, if it is too cold for you to be outside, it’s likely too cold for your pet,” said Dr. Lynn Buysse of the Minneota Veterinary Clinic.
“The elderly, short-coated breeds, and small-breed dogs do not handle the cold as well as younger dogs of breeds that are more suited to living outside.”
“If a pet cannot be brought inside, then they should at minimal have some sort of a well-insulated inside shelter with access to fresh water and food.”
The same can be said for cats, Buysse noted. “One added danger for cats during cold weather is their tendency to see heat under car hoods,” she said.
“People should be aware of this danger and check under their hoods or at least blow their horn before starting their engine.”
As far as farm animals, Buysse said those that are exposed to the elements also need special care.
“Providing them with adequate shelter from the wind is very important; as is dry bedding and adequate food and water,” she stressed.
“The very young or weak and debilitated animals need supplemental heat as well as a shelter.”
Brittany Moorse, whose family farms one mile southeast of Minneota, ensures the animals on their farm are protected from the elements.
“My baby calves are housed in hutches,” she said. “Keeping them warm, dry and growing is a lot of work in the winter; especially in the sub-zero weather.”
“My calves also wear calf jackets during the winter to help them maintain body temperature. Baby calves are born with less than five percent body fat, so they need all the help they can get to maintain normal body functions and still manage to grow.”
“Our milking cows usually go outside for a few hours every day,” Moorse added.
“But when it’s this cold, we keep them indoors. Because they are milking, they are at risk for frostbite. And my rabbits have an insulated shed with a small milk house heater.”
Minnesotans have dealt with this kind of weather before, and we’ll deal with it again in the future.
But that doesn’t make it any easier.