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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

Ten more days of autumn...

Posted 12/11/13 (Wed)

If these past few weeks in Ward County are any indication of things to come, we might be in for a cold, a very cold slap in the face.

On Nov. 23, a Saturday morning, we equalled the low temperature of 2012 at 24 below zero. Then, we had two consecuctive mornings in late November in which the temperature dropped to 14 below zero, just 3 degrees off the 2011-12 winter low of minus 17.

Granted, the last two winters have been mild on the northern tier of North Dakota. It’s really a statistical misnomer as the past two winter seasons have been the exception not the rule.

This past weekend, we dropped into what I like to call the deep freeze, when temperatures on Friday and Saturday morning were in the 20-below range and didn’t go above zero, that’s Fahrenheit, for the daytime highs.

So to recap, we’ve already had five days go well below zero for overnight lows and I might remind readers that we still have 10 more days until the first day of winter.

So that begs the question, what is the weather going to be like in late January and early February when we all know it can, and usually does get bitterly cold?

I’ve always been more fascinated with extreme cold than I am afraid of it. Strange things happen when the temperature drops to unusual lows.

Motor oil becomes solid at 60 below, trees have been documented splitting at 60 below, water vaporizes at 32 below, gasoline begins to crystalize at 40 below and ice bypasses the liquid stage and turns to gas in a phenomenon known as sublimation.

I know what you’re thinking, “that will never happen here.” Well, I’ve got news for you, it has happened and it will again. We’ve seen plenty of 50s below across the state throughout history and a record low of 60 below in 1936.

Much of the record cold was in the 1890s, but I have memories of three cold waves in recent years.

Some of you may remember January and February 1982 when the temperature didn’t rise above zero for 48 straight days. I worked outside at a grain elevator in Hazen that winter and it was miserable loading rail cars.

My second initiation happened Feb. 2 and 3, 1996 in Langdon. On both mornings the temperature was 40 below zero and on Feb. 2, the high that day was 30 below, yes the high! Oddly enough, that temp was 4 degrees shy of a record.

Coming back from Bisamrck in February 2009, the thermometer dropped as I drove north. Filling gas in Wilton, I noted 27 below. By the time Ilene and I reached Lake Sakakawea, it had dropped to 40 below and stayed there all the way to Carpio, roughly 66 miles.

Extreme cold isn’t unusual, we’ve just been spoiled. From 2002-2010, each winter we bottomed out at 36 below in Carpio, which is an odd statistic as well because it was the same cold temperature eight consective years. 

And shortly before Christmas 1989, I remember waiting to take pictures of Santa Claus who was coming to town in a helicopter. It was so cold (32 below) I had to put the camera battery in my armpits to thaw them out so I could get photos for the newspaper.

North Dakota lives and breathes at minus 45 degrees. Just think of the early years when there were outhouses, no electricity and well water was outside!

We just have to respect the cold that’s all. Think about it, plan for it, dress for it and enjoy it. We can be blessed we get four seasons.