MINNETONKA, Minn. — The sun was setting, the sky a pale blue. The temperature had warmed to minus-14, and a stiff wind was blowing snow around vast Lake Minnetonka — its surface a thick, hard layer of ice — pushing the wind chill ever lower.
It was clearly time to go fishing. “If you’re a sportsman,” said Steve Kniss, a police sergeant who was planning to be out on the lake late Monday night, “it’s an opportunity to continue your fishing into the winter. And the winters are cold and long.”
“Life is good inside that little castle,” he said.
With just about everyone else indoors in one of the coldest spots in the United States, on one of the coldest days in two decades, the outdoors belonged Monday to the hardiest of the hardy — ice fishermen and police officers, firefighters and other first responders. Over the years, they have adapted to the kind of weather that Washington will only taste Tuesday.
Adaptation takes many forms. For college students Cody Pribble and Mitch Simon, it meant sitting inside Pribble’s new $11,500 ice house, nicely heated by propane, watching television and drinking beer as they fished through two of the four holes in the rubber-
The trailer, one of about a dozen clustered in the Carson’s Bay section of the lake, has wood cabinets, fish finders, a cooking stove and bunks. The friends, who went to high school together, tow it around the state to fishing and hunting spots when they’re not in school or working.
“We’re being couch potatoes while we’re fishing,” Simon said. “It’s a rite of passage in Minnesota. Everyone does it.”
Jim Flanders, assistant chief of the city’s fire department, was not quite as lucky. Responding to a broken pipe at a home whose residents had recently left for Florida, he was hit with a geyser of freezing water that soaked him and another firefighter when they opened the outdoor closet containing the sprinkler main. Water poured from the home’s garage and ran into the basement, heavily flooding the carpeted room.
“We take the usual precautions,” dressing in multiple layers, Flanders said when asked how he prepared for wet duty on such a cold day. “And we just adapt.”
Across the state, the message was the same.
“It’s just another day,” said Bob Anderson, mayor of International Falls, the northern Minnesota town nicknamed “Icebox of the Nation,” where temperatures reached 30 below zero early Monday. “We know this is going to be part of our winter, and we prepare for it.”
Preparation means spending part of each fall making sure car batteries are in good shape, furnaces are tuned up and pipes are insulated. After that, Anderson said, life proceeds pretty much as normal.
He attended a wedding reception and a memorial service over the weekend, and hundreds of people came for each. The movie theater was packed. Candidates arrived to interview for an open city administrator job at City Hall on Monday morning.
“Life goes on,” he said.
But even Anderson acknowledged that not every part of life can continue as usual. “You’re not going to go outside when it’s 30 or 40 below and go skiing,” he said. “You wait until it warms up to about zero.”
Minnesota could shrug off the epic cold only so much. In Duluth, where temperatures dipped to nearly 30 below early Monday, the city announced that it would postpone its snow-removal operations Tuesday. “The freezing temperatures will not only expose city crews to dangerous temperatures and wind chills,” city officials said in a statement, “but will also impact the performance of the equipment.”
Gov. Mark Dayton (D) ordered the state’s K-12 schools closed Monday because of the brutal cold. He left the decision up to local superintendents for Tuesday, but most of Minnesota’s biggest districts already have canceled school for another day.
Flight delays continued at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the state’s largest. Regions Hospital in St. Paul had treated eight cases of hypothermia and 14 patients with frostbite, said spokeswoman Kristen Kaufmann. Most of the frostbite cases were severe enough to require inpatient treatment. All eight intensive-care beds in the hospital’s burn center were filled with patients who had suffered frostbite-related injuries, which, Kaufmann said, was extremely rare.
With schools closed and at least one major employer — 3M — telling workers to stay home, traffic was very light on roads and highways but brisk in the eight miles of skyways that connect Minneapolis’s core. People forced to use downtown streets scurried quickly to destinations and headed indoors.
“If you’ve lived here all your life, you grin and bear it or you take a vacation,” said Keith Rolfzen of south Minneapolis, who does bulk newspaper delivery on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. On Monday, he was sitting in Crystal Court, a large plaza in the network of elevated passages, waiting to meet his wife for lunch. “On warm days, people are in and out of the stores, but on days like this, we Minneapolitans are very appreciative of our skyways,” he said.
Karen Thoele, a patrol officer with 19 years on the Minnetonka police force, spent Monday morning working on a string of car burglaries. Someone had gone through the parking structure at an apartment complex, stealing valuables from seven vehicles.
“When it gets colder, a lot of the crime moves inside,” she said. “The crooks don’t want to be outside.”
For the law-abiding, Monday was pretty much a day like any other. “Most of the people get used to the winter, and it’s just another day,” Thoele said. “Just colder.”
Dennis reported from Washington.