A veritable heat wave on Tuesday, surging the thermometer up to zero or maybe even a degree above, might be the only thing standing in the way of an epic cold streak for the Northland.

Temperatures in Duluth dropped below zero at about 9 p.m. Friday and are forecast by the National Weather Service to stay mostly below zero into Saturday, with a high of 1 degree above zero forecast for that afternoon.

That could potentially put this below-zero stretch approaching 200 hours and on par or surpassing the modern-era standard for cold, 1996, when Duluth saw 164 consecutive hours below zero over eight days from Jan. 29 through Feb. 5. That stretch included one of the coldest readings ever in Duluth, 39 below zero, on Feb. 2. (Duluth’s high temperature that day was 21 degrees below zero, the coldest high temperature on record.)

PREVIOUSLY: 20 years ago, Tower set state record at 60 below

That was about the longest below-zero streak for anyone who is still alive, part of the historic cold wave that brought Minnesota its coldest temperature ever recorded, 60 degrees below zero in Tower on Feb. 2, 1996, and when school was canceled statewide.

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Cloquet’s Sappi plant is largely hidden by water vapor in Monday’s sub-zero temperatures. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Cloquet’s Sappi plant is largely hidden by water vapor in Monday’s sub-zero temperatures. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

But even 1996 pales compared to 1912, when the still-standing record was set with Duluth going 11 days below zero, some 264 hours, ending on Jan. 12, 1912.

This time we’d have to stay below zero until late Feb. 16 to break the record.

The coldest temperature recorded in Duluth was 41 degrees below zero, on Jan. 2, 1885.

Temperatures Monday morning included 36 degrees below zero in International Falls; 33 below in Hibbing; 29 below in Ely; 27 below near Grand Marais; 25 below in Hayward; 23 below at Duluth; and 19 below in Superior.

The bitterly cold temperatures will continue through the week, the Weather Service said, with wind chill values as cold as 50 degrees below Monday morning and only slight improvement going into the afternoon. Skies will be mostly sunny, though a few light lake-effect snow showers will be possible along the Bayfield Peninsula. Frostbite can occur in as little as 10 minutes at these temperatures.