The chilliest weather of the season was descending -- good for winter sports, bad for starting cars.
The coldest temperatures of the season were expected to spread over Minnesota for New Year's, delighting ice lovers but dismaying others who might find their cars won't start.
"We like this cold," said Margie Christensen, who co-owns Hunter Winfield's Resort on the southeast corner of Lake Mille Lacs, where a low of minus-10 Monday night was expected to reinforce the ice beneath anglers' shacks and vehicles.
But even before the deep cold's arrival, Minnesotans were calling for jump starts for their vehicles in unusual numbers. Calls to AAA were running 6 percent ahead of a normal winter day by midafternoon Monday, said Gail Weinholzer, director of public affairs for AAA Minnesota/Iowa.
Monday's Twin Cities temperature peaked at 18 just after midnight and slid through the day toward an expected low of minus 3 overnight. Outside the urban heat island, overnight lows were expected to drop well into the teens below zero across most of the state. Temperatures had already dropped to zero from Fergus Falls to Roseau Monday afternoon. Readings were expected to bounce back above zero Tuesday over most of the state, however, and stay there through the week.
A subzero low Monday would be the first of the season in the Twin Cities. There have been at least 10 winters when the first subzero reading arrived later. Last winter's first occurrence was Jan. 18, the latest ever. There were three lows below zero all winter last year; normal for December is six, and normal for the winter is nearly 23.
At Lake Mille Lacs, lows in the double-digits below zero could thicken the ice by as much as 2 inches overnight, Christensen said. But quick cold snaps also tend to make the fish briefly less willing to bite, she said.
"It's weird, because they're under the ice. What do they know?" Christensen said.
Last year's mild winter caused reservations to drop off some this season, Christensen said. But the recent cold has helped. All 16 of the resort's Direct TV- and bathroom-equipped "wheel houses" were on the ice Monday. The four more traditional "skid houses" are likely to follow with the ice getting thick enough to handle the one-ton trucks needed to haul them. Some ice in her bay is 14 to 16 inches thick; it had been only a foot until recently.
In the Twin Cities, cars might have had trouble starting in Monday's relatively mild winter temperatures because owners had been out of town or not driving to work through Christmas week, Weinholzer noted. Low temperatures in the past week were mostly in the single digits, including zero on Christmas Day.
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646