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Minnesota leaves school closing decision to local officials as Midwest shivers

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday decided to leave the decision about closing schools on Tuesday to local officials as the Upper Midwest fought bitterly cold weather today, with Tuesday warming in some places but still remaining frigid.

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Dayton took the rare step Friday of announcing that public schools statewide would be closed today.

"Tomorrow morning’s temperatures are forecasted to be in the double digits below zero again, with continued wind chill advisories for the entire state until afternoon," Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius wrote to school leaders across the state Monday morning. "Gov. Dayton is leaving the decision about school cancellations for Tuesday to individual school districts."

Other governors did not decide about whether classes should go ahead as most of the Upper Midwest faces wind-chills of nearly 50 below zero, but most schools in the region were shuttered today.

From diehard Green Bay Packer fans giving up tailgate parties to North Dakota firefighters suffering frostbite, the region faces some of the most brutal weather in nearly two decades.

Like most area cities, Jamestown, N.D. flirted with setting a record cold high temperature today.

“That’s a record you don’t want to break,” Bill Abeling of the National Weather Service said.

In Devils Lake, N.D., two firefighters were treated for frostbite Sunday night when battling a blaze that destroyed the Dakota Dry Bean elevator.

“We’re fighting extreme cold and frost. Hydraulics are freezing up,” Fire Chief Jim Moe said. “We’re trying to make sure everybody stays safe."

By this morning the fire was being contained by crews of 15, rotating every couple of hours, Moe said.

In Wisconsin, more than 1,500 electric customers lost power at about 5 a.m. today. The same was true around the Twin Cities.

Lows of about 20 below were common across the Upper Midwest today.

“This is something that hasn’t happened for quite a while,” said Philip Schumacher, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D.

“At these temperatures, exposed skin can freeze within minutes,” Schumacher said. “Your life can be in danger in less than an hour should you be outside without adequate clothing.”

That is why Minnesota's governor said on Friday that he was closing schools today.

“When the governor woke up this morning at 5 a.m. and saw the temperature was 22 below in the (Twin Cities) metro, 24 below in Rochester and 27 below in International Falls, he knew he had absolutely made the right decision," Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said.

Schools around the region canceled classes today. In western North Dakota, near Dickinson, for instance, all area schools but Beach called them off. However, even around Beach, its two rural bus routes did not run.

The entire region should feel better later in the week.

“There is a definite moderation of temperatures by Tuesday with highs near zero,” said Abeling, based in Bismarck, N.D. “By the weekend we should see temps into the 20s.”

Those moderate temperatures are likely to last about a week, he said.

“There’s always another cold snap out there,” Abeling said. “There is a big mass of arctic air that could descend upon us about the middle of the month.”

High temperatures today will only make a small recovery from lows last night and will be close to all-time cold records in many locations.

This is accompanied by brisk northwest winds. The combination of the cold and wind will produce wind chills of 40 to 60 below through Tuesday morning, with the coldest wind chills occurring today.

Duluth, Minn., today had its coldest morning of the winter so far, hitting 28 degrees below zero at the airport, but for much of northern Minnesota it was just another nasty cold morning in what has been an annoyingly cold winter.

Temperatures dipped as cold as 40 below at Brimson and 37 below at Embarrass, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth. This morning’s temperatures were not as cold as last week in the Northland when temperatures hit 47 degrees below zero in some of the traditionally colder locales.

“I told Embarrass to call back and do better,” Kevin Huyck, an assistant forecaster at the National Weather Service in Duluth, joked about the state’s usually coldest town.

It was 31 below with a 61 below wind chill at 9 a.m. at the Devils Track Airport near Grand Marais, Minn..

“The wind chill will remain very cold into Tuesday,” Huyck said. “But we’re going to see a gradual warm-up the rest of the week. By Thursday we’re going to see people in shorts and flip flops down" by Lake Superior” with a high temperature expected in the teens -- above zero, with upper 20s by the weekend.

Warmer weather is approaching from the west.

The warmer weather is not coming soon enough for some. North Dakota, for instance, canceled today's planned kickoff of its year-long 125th anniversary of statehood celebration. Officials say the event will be rescheduled.

Events throughout the Upper Midwest were canceled or postponed.

Some businesses allowed, or even encouraged, workers to stay home today.

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Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson has been editor of the Republican Eagle since December 2003. 
(651) 301-7870
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