Minnesota was making history (and ice) during an arctic outbreak with extreme wind chills and record-breaking cold temperatures that hit the area last week.

From Jan. 27-31, the state experienced some of the coldest air since 1996, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The coldest instrument-measured temperature on record in Minnesota was on Feb. 2, 1996 just south of Tower in St. Louis County at -60 degrees F. On Jan. 31 the temperature fell to -56 F in Cotton, the coldest statewide reading since then.

Locally, the NWS indicated the lowest temperatures in Aitkin County were recorded in Jacobson and Hill City at -45 degrees F on Jan. 31. Hill City also had the coldest wind chill recorded in the area at -57 degrees F on Jan. 30.

Brainerd set its coldest high temperature of -16 degrees F on Jan. 30, breaking its old record of -12 degrees F set in 1996, according to the NWS.  Isle observed its coldest windchill of -59 degrees F the morning of Jan. 30.  

As a result of the extremely dangerous wind chills, some businesses and government offices were closed, with USPS mail delivery suspended on Jan. 30. Gas shortages were experienced just north of the metro, and there were power outages in southern and western suburbs. Xcel Energy asked customers statewide to reduce their thermostat setting to 63 degrees.

SCHOOL CLOSINGS

Aitkin, Hill City and McGregor Schools were closed due to the extreme cold on Jan. 29-31. McGregor School Superintendent Paul Grams said the district determines closures based on a chart that depicts how many minutes it takes for frostbite to occur on exposed skin.

“If it is 10 minutes or less, school is cancelled. If it is that cold, diesel busses can gel up and it becomes a danger to children,” Grams stated. “We would like to think that all parents prepare their kids for the cold, but that isn’t always the case. We can’t assume that every child is going to be dressed appropriately.”   

By law, districts are required to have a minimum of 1,060 hours of instruction per school year for grades seven through 12, Grams explained. This school year, McGregor Schools have had four weather-related closings. While the district remains above the minimum hours of instruction, Grams will propose a make-up day for students on Easter Monday for the school board’s approval at its next meeting.

What is a polar vortex?

According to the National Weather Service, the polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. It always exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter. The term “vortex” refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream. This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States.

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