Minnesotans are about to be reminded of what winter can be.
The predicted low temperature of 3 below Thursday morning would be the first subzero temperature of the winter in the Twin Cities (unless there was a surprise Tuesday night) -- and the latest such reading on record.
Windchills around the metro area could approach 20 below, thanks to a brisk northwest wind. Residents in northwestern Minnesota, where noon temperatures Tuesday were already below zero, are bracing for temperatures Wednesday night approaching 20 below and windchills of 40 below, prompting an "Extreme Cold Watch" from the National Weather Service. That is a variation on what used to be a windchill watch or warning.
It will be a shock to the system during a winter that's been notable for an absence of cold.
Officials in the west-metro Westonka School District reminded parents in a robocall late last week -- winter's midpoint -- that their kids should wear a few extra layers in the coming days. And that's why they've been saving the items in the lost and found rather than donating them to charitable groups.
"Parents are just now starting to realize what's missing," said Carol Shukle, administrative assistant to the superintendent.
At Midwest Mountaineering, near the University of Minnesota's West Bank campus, project manager Bear Paulsen said sales of winter outerwear have picked up, perhaps as students from other states or countries find the winter in Minnesota might live up to its reputation.
"It really is about the first time this winter where people have said, 'Maybe I really do need that coat if I'm going to live here,'" Paulsen said.
The latest date now on the books for the first subzero temperature in the Twin Cities is Jan. 18; the mercury dipped below zero for the first time on that date during the winters of 1888-89 and 2001-02. The average date of the first subzero reading is Dec. 9.
Last winter brought 18 days with lows below zero, the last one on March 2. The unofficial seasonal average is 22.5 days with a reading below zero, according to assistant DNR climatologist Pete Boulay.
But no negatives are in the forecast beyond Thursday.
The 2 below recorded on Jan. 18, 2002, occurred during the Twin Cities' seventh-warmest January on record, which was followed by the ninth-warmest February. There were only two subzero readings that winter, also a record. But the reading of 10 below on Jan. 18, 1889, was followed by a dozen more subzero lows, including two that, nearly 123 years later, remain record lows for their date (20 below Feb. 20 and 25 below Feb. 23).
A late reintroduction to below-zero temperatures "doesn't necessarily mean we won't have a cold spell later," Boulay said.
Through Monday, January temperatures in the Twin Cities were running a very warm 11.2 degrees above normal. The average of 26.6 degrees, if extended through the month, would make it the third-warmest January on record. After the current brief cold snap, higher temperatures predicted for the weekend should pull the average back up.
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646