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Thoughts while surviving winter

By Staff | Jan 11, 2015

While hunkered down for the evening in front of a fireplace, with the wind howling outside and no travel advised anywhere in southern Minnesota, it is hard not to fall back on the advice of a fellow editor I knew years ago.

When in doubt, write about the weather.

On Thursday we were “enjoying” an old-fashioned Minnesota blizzard. You know, the kind where there really isn’t much new snow, but the stuff already here was blowing around into nice drifts in front of our front doors.

I remember back in about 1994 or so when I got sick and tired of shoveling the same snow. I would shovel it off the driveway and the sidewalk and the next day the wind had returned it to the same spot. Over and over again. Of course, I was living in southwest Minnesota, in the self-proclaimed windiest county in the state so that wasn’t a big surprise.

About this time every year, old-timers start to debate what year was the worst winter. Which one had the most snow, the most blizzards, the most school-closed days.

Well, I qualify as an old-timer, so here goes.

I think my worst winter in Minnesota was also my very first winter living here. It was the winter of 1968-1969 and it snowed a lot. I think I could practically walk out my second story window onto a big drift and slide down to the street.

When all that snow melted in the spring, it caused one of the biggest floods in Minnesota history, with half of North Mankato flooded and the Minnesota River going way over its banks all the way to Bloomington. That big dike system along the river in Mankato is a result of that 1969 flood.

But my worst winter ever was in about 1974-1975 in North Dakota. We had a terrific three-day blizzard and spent half that time without electricity. A couple who lived in a trailer home near us and had a new baby came and stayed with us those three days.

There is just nothing like a blizzard in North Dakota. That wind-swept prairie can almost appear to be alive as the snow blows across the flat fields with nothing to impede it until it hits a shelter belt and piles up into 20-foot tall drifts.

I often wondered just how the heck the first settlers there, or here in Minnesota, survived a winter in a sod house with a little fire going in the corner, maybe burning buffalo chips.

The answer is, probably that not all of them did survive the winter.

I have to think that those who did survive were a mighty hardy and tough people. And, maybe just a little bit crazy to have been here in the first place.

Then there are my own lapses of judgment during winter storms to relate.

Once in North Dakota, and once or twice in Minnesota, I got stuck out in the middle of nowhere in a massive snowdrift in a blizzard. Each time I was trying to get the newspaper either to or from the printing plant, which was 45 miles away.

It was dumb. The newspaper could have come out a day late and everyone would understand why. In fact, it did come out a day late. And I somehow got out of the snow bank and survived.

In the newspaper business, we often debate what exactly is news.

The weather often enters into the discussion.

Is it news that it snows in Minnesota in January? Is it news if it snows a lot in Minnesota in January?

Is it even news if there is a blizzard in Minnesota in January?

Probably not. It snows and blows here every year.

It is probably big news when it snows in Florida, or if it hits 70 degrees in Minnesota in January.

It is also news if there is a life-threatening or property damaging weather event, such as a tornado, hurricane or big storm. Of course, a blizzard can qualify for that, especially if one is dumb enough to try and drive through it to get a newspaper printed.

There are those folks who say they enjoy having a blizzard. It gets them out of work or going to school. They get to stay home and hunker down and watch out the window as the storm rages.

Good for them.

Me, I would just as soon read about the blizzard in the newspaper while sitting on a nice warm beach somewhere.

So, we can enjoy the weather or complain about it. But one thing remains true.

You can’t do much about it.

And, cheer up. Only 68 more days until the official first day of spring!