Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Minnesota of wimps* 

There's some consternation on campus today about us being open while the surrounding school districts are closed. The temps are low enough that exposed skin can freeze in seven minutes. My house was -24 this morning (at last check, it was -15.) Is it safe for students, someone asked.

My first year up here there was a Saturday in January 1985 where the morning temperature was -34. My old '71 Chrysler New Yorker had a block heater that I had plugged in -- low temperatures seldom sneak up on you -- and sure enough it popped on the first time. Several people ran out to get jumps of their cars. That night a colleague and I went to dinner at a nearby supper club outside town. Several other cars were there; all were left running, perhaps for hours. We didn't have remote starters back then. At Panera this morning I counted (!) 22 cars in the parking lot, 14 of which were running. I was 23rd and 15th while enjoying a bagel and a cup of coffee. (I know some legislator is now going to introduce a bill to prevent this in the name of global cooling global warming climate change. Send me the bill, we'll mock it on Final Word.)

Exposing skin is the result of carelessness. I understand that children sometimes forget mittens. I would cancel school thinking of this. But college? Maybe we can use the cold to get rid of poorly prepared students -- it's quicker and cheaper than hiring composition or algebra instructors for sixteen weeks. Seriously, YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA. If you do not know how to wear a ski mask, or a scarf, or a balaclava, then stay inside, move, or get Tom Coughlin Face.

Our campus meteorologist Bob Weisman wrote me a note that you have to go back to 1996 to a really cold January. (I wouldn't know -- I was in Ukraine that winter escaping the cold.)
The last really, really cold outbreak here was late January-early February 1996. That week, we had 6 straight lows colder than -30 and lows frequently below zero. We had one day with a high of -20, the coldest high in St. Cloud records. The record low for Minnesota (-60) was set on Feb. 2. This isn�t close to that.
We might set a record tonight, Bob says, but only because the record for St. Cloud for this date is a relatively mild -31.

* Alternate title: Life's hard; wear a balaclava.