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In the Northland, 'You call this cold?'

The birthday messages last Sunday said to stay warm. I didn't have the heart to tell everyone I was in Cleveland, enjoying a sweltering 45 degrees. It dropped to 20 the next day, still balmy compared to the minus 21 back home and the 19 below I r...

The birthday messages last Sunday said to stay warm. I didn't have the heart to tell everyone I was in Cleveland, enjoying a sweltering 45 degrees.

It dropped to 20 the next day, still balmy compared to the minus 21 back home and the 19 below I returned to on New Year's Day.

No biggie. I've lived through worse: Minus 28 in Duluth in 2005 and a degree warmer in 1987 (I missed colder weather living in Boston between those years.) Like antifreeze, the coldest weather you've endured should vaccinate you for anything to that point.

But someone has always experienced worse.

"Jan. 10, 1981 was -30 with a -50 windchill," Mona Engen wrote in response to a call for readers' coldest temperatures ever on the News Tribune's Facebook page.

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No question about the date: It was, she said, "on my wedding night."

Marie Ramczyk also recalls 30 below -- "for days," she said of a spell in 1957.

"I grew up near Nisswa," she wrote. "We still went to school because the buses were kept in a building, so they always ran."

With Gov. Dayton in office, maybe today's kids really do have it easier. Bob Bloomberg also was in the 30 Below Club.

"I played hockey in the '70s. We played outside in Piedmont Heights. It was nothing for us guys to play hockey for 2 hours in 30 below weather," he wrote.

"I live in Minneapolis now and people complain about the temps and I scoff at them and say, 'I'm from Duluth, this isn't cold!' "

Fellow Minneapolis transplant Olene Bigelow also laughs at Twin Cities temperature tolerances.

"I grew up in North Central North Dakota. I can remember -40 air temps when I was in junior high" in 1953, she said.

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Eldon Krosch Jr. didn't have to leave Minnesota to match that.

"It hit neg 42 the first time I ever went winter camping," he said of a 2004 or '05 Boundary Waters trip.

"I was in a stout three-season tent and thankfully a really nice mummy bag rather than in a house," he said of his survival technique, adding, "Learned a few things about cold (going) 6 miles by snowshoe."

Duluth's Tony Salls recalls two degrees colder.

"Jan. 17, 1982, going to school in Ely. Minus 44 degrees," he said. "My roommate owned a mobile home. We woke up to the trailer being 30 degrees (inside) and dropping. The fuel line froze up and then the water pipes."

Salls' dad was in Honolulu, reading about the Midwest freeze and commenting it was cold where he was, too -- 62 degrees.

"My response, 'Dad, you are talking about a 106 degree difference. I do not feel sorry for you,'" Salls said.

Minus 40 once ... minus 40 twice. Do I hear minus 50?

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"Seems like it was about -50 sometime in the '60s in Duluth. I was doing emergency start calls then in Woodland," Jerry Harless chipped in.

Added Jacki Peterson: "My first winter in northern Wisconsin -- schools closed, about -50° in 1976 or '77."

Knife River's Riiku Kaijava gave a more precise report. "Minus 52 in Isabella, at Mickey and Clara Beatty's Knotted Pine Tavern, January 1967."

And from there, the only place to go is 60 below, both well-remembered and well-documented as Minnesota's record lowest temperature.

"Yup -- 60 below at Lake Vermilion Tower on Feb. 2, 1996," wrote Kay Torkkola. "I threw a glass of warm water up in the air and it came down in beautiful crystals. Car started and I went to work on square tires!"

"1996 for me too!" chimed in Patti Wavinak. "Even have the 'I survived' T-shirt."

So does Sarah Proudfit.

"The record breaker," she wrote. "My sister's workplace was selling the shirts to help people pay for heating their homes."

Tower's state record does have an asterisk: A pair of National Weather Service thermometers in Embarrass went on the blink after recording 53 below, so cold that the alcohol separated in one, the News Tribune reported then. Weather Service observer Roland Fowler of Embarrass begrudgingly gave the concession.

"I congratulate the people of Tower, but I'm skeptical of the record," he told the paper then, suggesting the time of day it was taken -- 9:40 a.m. -- isn't generally the coldest.

Regardless, the mark stands. And it's way worse than a mere 30 below, said Ken Hupila, who also lived through it and drove 50 miles from the Tower area to Ely to coach hockey.

"If it was 20-30 degrees below, you get 5 miles down the road and your car would warm up fine. But when it got that cold, it never warmed up," he said. "There's a big difference between 30 below and 60 below. There's a dividing line. Not that 30 below is fun."

It isn't? Well, it's great talking about it.

Past tense.

Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at rwashington@duluthnews.com

Related Topics: WEATHER
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