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Snow blown into Bonnie Langer Memorial Park in Ellsworth’s west business district was shoveled away Saturday ahead of the past weekend’s historic cold snap. The Ellsworth School District announced the same morning all schools would be closed Monday. The announcement on the district’s website cited the bitter cold temperatures projected to happen that day. (Herald photos by Bill Kirk)
Snow blown into Bonnie Langer Memorial Park in Ellsworth’s west business district was shoveled away Saturday ahead of the past weekend’s historic cold snap. The Ellsworth School District announced the same morning all schools would be closed Monday. The announcement on the district’s website cited the bitter cold temperatures projected to happen that day. (Herald photos by Bill Kirk)

‘Polar vortex’ may ease grip on region

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news Red Wing, 55066
Red Wing Minnesota 2760 North Service Drive / P.O. Box 15 55066

Meteorologists say that what they call a “polar vortex,” and the rest of us call bitterly cold weather, is beginning to ease up in the Upper Midwest.

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That means the region may reach temperatures Alaskans have been enjoying.

“The good news is today, Monday, is the worst day,” Todd Heitkamp of the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D., said. “The rest of the week will still be cold with the wind chill still being between minus 20 and 30 … but by Friday we should be somewhere up around the freezing mark.”

Nearly 20 states endured below-zero wind chill temperatures Monday, but the misery index was worst in the Upper Midwest.

Among the coldest cities was extreme northeastern Minnesota’s Grand Marais, which at 9 a.m. registered 31 below zero with a minus 61 wind chill. In west-central Minnesota’s Alexandria, the wind chill still was 56 below at midday.

In contrast, the temperature in Nome, Alaska, Monday topped 30 degrees above zero.

The temperature reached minus 2 degrees in Red Wing on Monday, according to measurements from Lock & Dam No. 3. The wind chill factor kept many indoors, and the low was negative 22 degrees.

This time last year, temperatures reached a high of 29 degrees, and two years ago temperatures reached 44 in a warmer-than-average January. The highest temperature last January was 45 degrees and the low was minus 9.

The cold temperatures early this week were quite a swing from Friday and Saturday, which both reached highs 35 degrees in Red Wing. Sunday and Monday tied at minus 2 for the high and bottomed out in the negative 20s.

Highs in the Red Wing area are expected to reach 16 on Thursday, the lower 30s on Friday and Saturday and the mid-30s by Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Today will be cold but less windy, the agency says.

Regional impact

The miserable cold had plenty of company in several states. Upper Midwest cities reporting just slightly warmer wind chills than Alexandria and Grand Marais ranged from Owatonna in southern Minnesota to Green Bay in eastern Wisconsin to Devils Lake in eastern North Dakota.

It can be more than a chilling experience, it can be a health hazard.

“At these temperatures, exposed skin can freeze within minutes,” said Philip Schumacher, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sioux Falls. “Your life can be in danger in less than an hour should you be outside without adequate clothing.”

Entertainment

On the good-news side Monday, temperatures did not set record lows (which are about 60 below in Minnesota) and Mall of America’s Nickelodeon Universe gave people free rides at the indoor amusement park.

School officials across the coldest part of the Midwest started to call off Tuesday classes as early as Monday morning, and Red Wing classes were canceled for a second day. Cannon Falls, Ellsworth, Goodhue, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Lake City and Zumbrota-Mazeppa districts also canceled Tuesday classes.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday decided to leave the decision about closing schools Tuesday to local officials. On Friday, he ordered public schools statewide to close Monday.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker left the decision entirely in local district’s hands.

Republican Eagle staff writer Danielle Killey contributed to this story.

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Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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