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Cold, even for Minnesota: Life at minus-33 degrees

Cold, even for Minnesota: Life at minus-33 degrees
Ducks find refuge on an open section of Minnehaha Creek on Wednesday in Minneapolis. (STEPHEN MATUREN / AFP/Getty Images)

Silk long-johns. Check. Sock liners under heavy socks and boots. Yep. Hoodie over fleece sweatshirt and thermal undershirt … scarf triple-wrapped around the neck …hat (earflaps down today) … gloves … the good down jacket — the one with the hood.

Now that I’m dressed, it’s time to drag a couple of trash bins down the long driveway to the road.

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I’ve experienced 40 degrees below (and minus-90 wind chill, as I recall) in North Dakota, been on a dogsled north of the Arctic Circle and crossed the Bering Sea in a bucking Soviet research boat. I know about cold.

It was minus-33 when I checked the thermometer at 7:19 Wednesday morning. Thankfully, there was almost no wind here on the northeast fringe of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. January has been very dry, but there is fresh snow now, and the sky turned a brilliant blue as the sun rose. It didn’t look that cold.

Winter isn’t as cold in the Upper Midwest as it was a few decades ago. However, temperatures here this week are nothing to mess with. Life slows down but never comes to a halt. I went out and started the old Toyota late Tuesday — when it was only 25 below — to warm it up before the long night. You want to be sure you can go somewhere if you have to. This morning, it fired but couldn’t quite turn over. I did start the Prius, housed in the unheated garage, and went for a drive around the neighborhood. Didn’t see a soul. Even mail delivery has been suspended. I presume the trash collectors will be on schedule Thursday morning.

Schools are closed. Shops in the metro area have shut down early or closed. One local television reporter determined that it took seven minutes for her jeans to freeze solid enough to stand by themselves. On a more serious note, a local utility said it was having trouble providing adequate natural gas supplies a bit north of here, and asked some customers to turn down their thermostats.

Here at my house, our geothermal system is continuing to pull the dwindling heat from 15 feet underground and keeping us warm.

The birds are out. Gold finches, a drab brown in winter, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, and black-capped chickadees are frantically trying to pull enough sunflower, nuts and thistle seed from our feeders to stay warm. There are no deer to be seen. The bears, of course, are sound asleep, so we don’t have to worry about them pulling down the feeders again. There is a big gray squirrel in the neighbor’s poplar. Unlike other years, I haven’t seen any stashes of pine cones left on warm car engines.

The mice, gophers and plenty of other creatures are just trying to keep warm. I guess that’s how we ended up with a dead shrew in the washing machine last week. Rosie the cat, born in Cypress Park and raised in Eagle Rock, normally provides a temperature report with the desperate shaking of one paw, two paws, or a whole-body shudder. Wednesday it was all of the above.

Still, even though it was 20 below at noon, I noticed that there was enough heat from the sun to melt a little of the snow on our road.

It doesn’t last. There comes a point on these days — about an hour before sunset, I think — when the sun surrenders the last of its heat as it starts settling over Hay Lake on the west edge of the property. Suddenly, it feels precisely as though we are on the cusp of a long, polar night.

That’s OK. It’s Minnesota. In January. The latest forecast is that we’ll have 40 degrees on Sunday. And rain.

Porubcansky is a former foreign editor of The Times.

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