A cold snap that started Saturday and continued into Wednesday is slowly loosening its grip on the Northland.
The rise in temperatures couldn’t come too soon for Cloquet letter carrier Brent Stahl, who was delivering mail on a cold Wednesday morning wearing numerous layers (including handwarmers), extra socks and head gear that covered most of his face.
“It’s challenging,” Stahl said, noting that he can’t remember another time of such extended cold temperatures in his 10 years with the United States Postal Service. “They say 10 minutes of exposed skin at these temperatures can cause frostbite, but we’re outside all day.”
He chuckled, and added that he is unaware of any frostbite cases, however.
“My nose hasn’t fallen off yet.”
Some good things do come from frigid weather.
An appreciation for temperatures above zero, for starters.
It’s bad for Emerald Ash Borer larvae, which is good for ash trees.
Plus, kids get out of school sometimes — good for them, if not working parents — be it by order of the governor or the local superintendent.
Cold weather and its affect on crime seems to be a wash, according to a quick report by the Cloquet Police Department, which showed calls for service remain fairly consistent from October through now. Traffic calls go up, while other crime may go down, but the end result is still equally busy police officers, Deputy Police Chief Terry Hill surmised.
Even though kids in Cloquet celebrated their 18th day in a row (counting weekends) of Christmas vacation on Tuesday, most stayed inside and out of trouble, it seems. Other area students were also out of school Monday and Tuesday, but some schools were in session Thursday and Friday last week, interrupting what could have been a spectacularly long winter break.
Minnesota made national news last Friday, when Gov. Mark Dayton announced that all public schools across the state would be cancelled Monday, due to the extremely cold temperatures forecast for Sunday through Tuesday.
State law gives the governor authority to order schools to close. In modern times, only Gov. Arne Carlson closed schools statewide, and he did it three times.
On Tuesday, the decision was left to local superintendents, who mostly made the call to cancel school a second day in our region.
Cloquet Superintendent Ken Scarbrough said schools still have to make up snow days in the summer if they have too many, regardless of whether it’s the governor or local officials who make the call to cancel school.
“As long as we meet minimum [required hours and days in school], we’re OK,” Scarbrough said, admitting he wasn’t sure how close Cloquet was to going under the minimum required contact hours now. “I think the governor was trying to do the best thing for the whole state.”
Scarbrough said he doesn’t like canceling because of cold — versus snow or ice — but when windchill is predicted to feel like minus-35 to -45, he doesn’t like to think of kids waiting for the bus or walking to school.
“At these temperatures, exposed skin can freeze within minutes,” said Philip Schumacher, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sioux Falls. “Your life can be in danger in less than an hour should you be outside without adequate clothing.”
Anytime school is cancelled, it seems some criticism is leveled, Scarbrough observed, noting somberly that he had a parent die bringing a child to school when the car hit ice and slid into a milk truck years ago.
“There was no question of cancelling school that day, but you only need an incident like that to make it plain that this is dangerous stuff,” he said. “It’s a whole lot easier to make up time in June than put your kids at risk in January.”
A 19-year-old University of Minnesota-Duluth student found in subzero temperatures in mid-December in the Woodland neighborhood had surgery Monday to remove parts of her feet. Another woman was found in the cold with frostbite in Duluth over the weekend. She was reportedly found by a passerby Sunday, and taken to local hospital, then to Regions Hospital in St. Paul.
Old Man Winter plays exterminator
A happy result of the extremely cold temperatures may be that larvae from the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) — an invasive beetle from Japan that has recently made its way to northern Wisconsin and likely northern Minnesota —won’t survive the cold snap, according to Mike Reinikainen, forest manager of the Cloquet Forestry Center.
Reinikainen said the most interesting part of the recent discussions around extreme cold and its effect on EAB larvae stem from the work done by Dr. Rob Venette (USDA Forest Service) and Mark Abrahamson (Minnesota Department of Agriculture) in St. Paul. “Over the last few years, they looked at the ‘supercooling’ cold tolerance of EAB larvae (resulting from the production of chemical compounds akin to antifreeze within the larvae) and saw that as temperatures plummeted to extremes (in excess of -30 degrees F) mortality of EAB larvae increased where they overwinter under the bark of ash trees,” Reinikainen said in an email interview with the Pine Journal Tuesday. “They found that at temperatures between -20 and -30 degrees F (very similar to the temperatures we have been observing at the Cloquet Forestry Center weather station), we could expect 79-98 percent EAB larvae mortality.”
Reinikainen called the studies encouraging, although noted there are more questions that need to be answered.
“Though it in no way means we will be free from the effects of EAB in the future, cold spells like this could buy more time for the science to catch up with our information needs,” Reinikainen said. “Given the vast area of ash forests we have in northern Minnesota and the many questions we still have to answer, we can use all the help Old Man Winter can provide.”
‘Polar vortex’ eases grip on region
Meteorologists blame what they call a “polar vortex,” for the extremely cold temperatures from Saturday through Wednesday.
A polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, typically the coldest air in the Northern hemisphere, which sits over the polar region during the winter season. The frigid air found its way into the United States when the polar vortex was pushed south, reaching southern Canada and the northern Plains, Midwest and northeastern portions of the United States.
“I think the sixth was generally the coldest day in the region,” said Steve Gohde, observation program leader at the National Weather Service in Duluth. “We had some remarkably cold daytime high temperatures.
On Monday, observers for the National Weather Service reported temperatures in Moose Lake as low as -28 with a high of -14 (which was the seventh lowest high daytime temperature — the record is -19 set Feb. 2, 1996 at that location). Moose Lake reported a low of -32 reported on Sunday.
In contrast, the temperature in Nome, Alaska, Monday topped 30 degrees above zero.
Even though students were back in school Wednesday across Carlton County, it wasn’t exactly warm — the temperature at 11:50 a.m. was reported at -8. Before 8 a.m. Wednesday, NWS observers in Moose Lake, Cloquet and Cromwell reported temperatures at -20.
We’ll see southerly winds picking up today, but they are the front end of a warming trend,” Gohde said just before noon Wednesday. “We expect temperatures to rise incrementally into Saturday, and then remain fairly steady.”
Temperatures should be above average this weekend, he noted, adding that the average for this time of is a high of 19 degrees and a low of 2 degrees above zero.
Don Davis of Forum News Service contributed to this story.