Al Batt: This isn’t fake-effect snow

Published 8:47 pm Tuesday, December 15, 2020

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Tales From Exit 22, By Al Batt

What’s your favorite part of living where you do?

How would you describe where you live in a single sentence?

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Did you mention the weather in your second answer but not the first?

Someone from southern Alabama called and offered me a writing gig. He asked about the weather. That’s obligatory. I told him I was putting the skis on my rocking chair.

A caller from California thought we might be related. She wasn’t as rich as I like newfound relatives to be, but I was happy to hear from her. She’d visited Minnesota where she learned to never make a snow angel at a dog park and commented on the cold weather. I told her I’d just enjoyed a breakfast brrrrito.

I spoke to a group from Arizona via Zoom. I told them a joke about oxygen and potassium. It was O K. Then one asked what a normal winter was like in the Gopher State. I answered I didn’t know. His follow-up question was how long I’d lived in Minnesota. I was the little boy who’d cried, “Wool!” I said I’d lived here all my life, but we’d never had a normal winter during that time.

Winter can be a slog. It’s a giant Slip ‘N Slide and like Christmas shopping, it makes everyone uncomfortable. We have records we hope will keep the riffraff away. According to the Minnesota State Climatology Office and the National Climatic Data Center, the coldest day in Minnesota was -60° on Feb. 2, 1996, near Tower in St. Louis County. The most snow in 24 hours was 36 inches that fell on Jan. 7, 1994, near Finland in Lake County. The snow leveled out the roads. The most snow in a single storm was 46.5 inches on Jan. 6-8, 1994, at the same location. People had to climb ladders to shovel it. The record for most snow in a season is 170.5 inches in 1949-1950 near Grand Portage in Cook County. The greatest monthly snowfall was 66.4 inches that dropped on March 1965 at Collegeville in Stearns County. The earliest measurable snowfall was 0.3 inches on Sept. 14, 1964, at International Falls in Koochiching County. The latest measurable snowfall was 1.5 inches on June 4, 1935, at Mizpah also in Koochiching County. But what is tribulation without wind? The state record wind gust was 121 mph on Sept. 1, 2011, at Donaldson in Kittson County. That’s a wind experienced only at political conventions.

I wasn’t in any of those places when history was being made, but I’m oddly proud of those records. I have no problem taking credit or feeling discomfort for all those records. After all, we’re all in this together.

The National Weather Service defines a blizzard as a storm with considerable falling or blowing snow, winds over 35 mph and visibilities of less than 1/4 mile for at least three hours. I remember making it home just before a blizzard showed its nasty side. I was thrilled that the car I called Halftime because it started half the time had gotten me home. Its trunk carried jumper cables and a pair of grain shovels in case I found help after I’d become stuck in the snow. I repeated the mantra “this too shall melt” as I shoveled. If I had a dollar for every time I’d been stuck, I wouldn’t be even moderately rich. Astronomical winter begins Dec. 21, meteorological winter on Dec. 1. My winter begins the day I’ve forgotten how to drive in winter weather. A friend from just down the road owned a tow truck. While I was safe at home and wondering if winter was on its way somewhere or had already been where it was headed, he was out trolling the freeway in blizzard conditions to help stranded motorists, frequently winter visitors who were first thrilled, then chilled. It was found money. He pulled a northbound car from either Alabama or Mississippi from a ditch on I-35 during a blizzard. He dropped the family and their car off at a truck stop where they were going to wait until the storm abated, at which time they planned to make tracks back to either Alabama or Mississippi. A Minnesota winter isn’t for everyone. The Weather Channel hunts for inhospitable weather like people hunt for sales on sweatpants and broadcasts it to the world. Tourists arrive pre-frightened.

It’s no secret we have bad weather, but it means well.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.