The bitter cold snap we enduring in the Midwest last week got me wondering about how I recorded it in my diaries when I was in high school in Minnesota in the 1980s. A little detective work revealed that the coldest wind chill ever recorded in Minnesota was 71 degrees below zero on January 9 and 10, 1982 (that’s -71 degrees F by the new formula; by the old formula, it was 100 degrees below zero!).
Here’s how 15-year-old me recorded it:
Dear Diary, (Dateline: 1/10/82)
Today is Sunday and all weekend it has been bitterly cold. We played a BB game against Aitkin on Friday but we lost miserably. We are a rotten team. I don’t think we’ll ever improve.
To be honest, I wrote more about which boys I interacted with each day, and I rarely remarked on the weather so this mention means the terrifyingly cold weather really merited it.
While I was rooting around for my old diaries, I found my grandmother’s diaries. I inherited about 25 years worth recorded between 1986 and 2010 when Grandma moved into an assisted living facility. Grandma, who’s still around at 103 (turning 104 in about a month), wrote about a paragraph a day about the weather, her visitors and her daily activities.
A little more research revealed Embarrass, Minnesota, perpetually in the temperature cellar, recorded the coldest ever Minnesota temperature in January at 57 degrees below zero on January 21 and 22, 1996; the lowest temperature ever recorded in Minnesota was a February date: 60 below zero on February 2, 1996 in Tower, Minnesota. Grandma lived about 200 miles southwest of Embarrass and Tower, but I figured it was probably very cold in her neck of the woods, too. I learned it was. Here are her weather-related entries for two weeks in late January and early February, 1996. They reveal a lot about how Minnesotans persevere through ridiculous weather like what we experienced the last week.
January 18, 1996
Woke up to a white world. I’m really snowed in. Jim [Grandma’s oldest son, my uncle] stopped in on the snowmobile at 10:00. He was also snowed in but Maynard [a friend I’m guessing] opened our driveways tonite but it is still blowing. Forecast is for cold so I painted the kitchen walls today. Everything looks nice and clean; if only I could keep it so. Card party was cancelled tonite, too. No school.
January 19, 1996
Was 30 below when I got up this morning. Stayed cold all day. Will be as cold tomorrow morning, too.
January 20, 1996
It wasn’t as cold as I expected. About 21 below.
January 25, 1996
Bitter cold. I worked on my quilt mostly. Started to sew it together. It will look nice.
January 26, 1996
Plugged the car in as soon as I got up as I had an appointment at Donna’s at 9 [Donna might have been her stylist]. Was 23 below. Stopped at [her sister] Freda’s after. … Forecast is for cold all week.
[Note: My grandmother was using a block heater even though she parked her car inside an attached garage!]
January 27, 1996
Plugged in the car when I got dressed as it’s my turn to drive for coffee. … Was to go with [her son] Wally’s to [her daughter] Mary’s tomorrow but Mary called and said forecast is bad so we won’t go. I had a dessert started but will take it to quilting Monday.
January 28, 1996
I walked to early church. Weather wasn’t too bad; snowing lightly. After Bible study, [her friend] Ruth asked me to go with her uptown for breakfast. Had French toast. Was snowing hard when we came home. I stayed put. Called Mary at 4. They had lots of snow and still snowing.
January 29, 1996
Very cold and stormy. … Falk [a friend?] opened my driveway by 6 in the night. Surely have a lot of snow.
January 30, 1996
The weather has been bitter cold and I’ve been rather nervous as today I was to go to my eye doctor to see if he would pass me for my driving because he said I was on the borderline but he did pass me. … I was surely happy I can drive some. [Grandma was 80 in January 1996.]
January 31, 1996
Bitter cold. Kept busy all day [with guests]. Ate good so I’m glad; not too much leftover. Forecast is for very cold tonight.
February 1, 1996
32 below. I wondered if there would be Ladies Aid but there were 25 ladies. … They cancelled school for tomorrow on account of the cold. Card party was also canceled tonight.
February 2, 1996
Very cold. Stayed home all day. Sewed a little on my quilt. The governor closed all schools for today.
February 3, 1996
Was 30 below when I got up. … Forecast is for a little warmer.
# # #
By February 9, she noted that “weather was beautiful.” I don’t know what “beautiful” meant, but I’m going to guess the sun was shining and the temperatures were closer to zero than 20 below. That’s perspective right there, folks.
Only 46 more days ’til spring.