Extreme weather: Minnesota edition – 10 inch snowfall, polar vortex puts state in deep freeze

By : 
Jordan Gerard

It seemed as though Minnesota was literally thrown into a deep freezer, with Mother Nature hoping to save us and cook us in the summer.

A 10” inch snowfall on Monday, Jan. 21, followed by a polar vortex left very little liveliness in Spring Grove, especially on Wednesday, Jan. 30, when the high for the air temperature was -18º F.

A polar vortex is described as “a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding the Earth’s poles,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The “vortex” is a counterclockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air close to the poles. Occasionally, the vortex will expand and send cold air southward with the jet stream.

At 5:20 a.m., U.S. National Weather Service in La Crosse, Wisconsin hit -30º F. The cold snap is considered one of the coldest periods since February 1996. A few places even broke cold temperature records.

Windchill values reached -40º F at times or lower. Officials warned that frostbite could occur in 10 minutes or less and urged no traveling unless necessary. 

If people did need to travel, they needed to dress in layers and appropriate winter garb to stay warm.

Spring Grove Public School District has been closed since last Monday, and only opened on Friday, Feb. 1.

Students will make up Thursday’s classes on a later date, but Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are excused as snow days, Superintendent Rachel Udstuen said.

The kids did get to enjoy their time off, as teachers did not ask them to read ahead or be caught up once school resumed.

Currently, the district does not have e-learning days where students would receive assignments from their teachers over Schoology, a program used by teachers to receive assignments from students.

After the snowstorm, Main Street was bare, as the amount of snow and accompanying winds kept many people at home.

There were several snowdrifts, including two in the rear of the Herald. One drift was knee high and the other was waist high.

More snowdrifts around the area crept onto roadways and carved themselves into existing snow banks.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation pulled snowplows off roads Tuesday night due to mechanical problems, which in turn were due to blowing, drifting snow and sub zero temperatures.

Plowing resumed at about 4 a.m. on Wednesday. They were on the roads since Sunday, Jan. 27, afternoon.

In addition, a few roads were marked “No Travel Advised” overnight due to the blowing snow. 

It was easier to make a list of open places than closed places last week when way subzero temperatures froze Minnesota in its tracks.

Open places included Kwik Trip, Merchants Bank, Red’s IGA, Ivy Grove Cafe, Sterling Drug, Spring Grove Post Office and The Corner Store.

Closed places included Houston County Courthouse, Spring Grove City Hall, many businesses in town and around the area and state. Yes, even the newspaper staff worked from home on Wednesday.

A majority surveyed after the cold snap said business was slow but steady.

Even though the post office didn’t deliver mail to rural mailboxes, clerks and carriers reported to work to keep up with paperwork. Not many people came in to retrieve their mail from the boxes.

The Corner Store manager Joe Kessler said business was ok. The municipal liquor store was busy from 3 to 5 p.m. for happy hour and saw steady off-sale purchases.

The bar was open from noon to 5 p.m. Regular visitors started off the day followed by folks with cabin fever.

Kessler said they probably could have stayed open longer, but didn’t want to risk the safety of his staff.

City crews kept up with Mother Nature as best they could, public utilities worker Jon Sylling said.

“We dealt with it as best we could,” he said. 

They dealt with a few frozen water lines, but were able to thaw them out before they busted.

Perhaps the only joy to come out of this polar vortex is the snowing sticking around, and Viking Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club out grooming their trails.

Club member Dave Trehus started grooming the trails on Thursday, Jan. 31. Several groups of snowmobiles had already been on the open but un-groomed trails around Spring Grove, helping to pack the snow into a base.

Luckily, Minnesotans thawed over the weekend with a temperature change of 30 degrees or more.