St. Paul, Dec. 31, 2013
Perhaps it was the “13” in the year just past. Whatever the reason, in 2013, Old Man Winter took up permanent residence in Minnesota. Temperatures seldom topped 40, the snow didn’t melt and summer never arrived. But Minnesotans did what they always do in difficult times — they soldiered on, adapting their beloved summer traditions to the inclement weather.
After weathering several snowy April baseball games, shivering Twins fans pondered the wisdom of outdoor baseball. Twins pitcher Scott Diamond perfected what he called a “snowball,” a nasty pitch that left bats frozen to the hitters’ shoulders. The Twins took the early lead in their division.
The first indication that this was to be a year weather forecasters would label “atypical” came in May, when anglers were allowed to return their icehouses to the lakes for the fishing opener. Many simply stayed home, making the mothers therein happy.
Most years, Minnesotans shed winter coats as soon as possible in favor of shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops. Not this year. With late May temps in the 30s, one entrepreneur introduced a line of parkas featuring bold Hawaiian prints. Another marketed a coat with sleeves that were transparent below the elbow, simulating the look of short sleeves. Supply could not keep up with the demand.
Despite a “freak” snowstorm on the first Sunday in June, thousands of hardy souls, coats zipped to their throats, turned out for St. Paul’s Grand Old Day. Wandering the length of the Avenue, they trampled flat the ridge of snow thrown against the curb by the snowplows. In the beer gardens, hot chocolate outsold the suds.
Two weeks into June, with snow still heavy on the ground, the Twins struck a deal to play their remaining home games in the Metrodome. Diamond led the pitching staff with his snowball, and the Twins maintained their division lead.
Minnesotans celebrated July 4th, the traditional high point of summer, with back-yard barbecues and picnics, chilling their beer in the snowbanks that still lay like gray scarves against the fences. Throughout July, sales of sunscreen lagged, but drugstores reported record sales of lip balm and lotion for dry skin. In downtown Minneapolis, the Commodore and the Queen of the Lakes, dressed in white fur, looked like Winter Carnival royalty as they waved from their convertibles during the Aquatennial parade.
On the first weekend of August, it snowed 4 inches. At the Minnesota Zoo, the concert roadies replaced the T-shirts on their merchandise tables with stocking caps and tour parkas. In St. Paul, the Como Park Conservatory remained open 24 hours a day to accommodate the demand for a walk among green plants. The State Fair opened its 12-day run on Aug. 22, debuting a new food: roasted winter squash on a stick. It was not a hit.
The fair ended on Labor Day. Children were supposed to start school on Tuesday, but classes were canceled. Snow day. As September rolled on, Minnesotans turned their back on the summer that never was, caught up in pennant fever as the Twins clinched their division.
The playoffs began on Oct. 1. The Twins beat the wild-card Tigers in the first round, then took the pennant by whipping the Yankees in four straight. When the World Series started on Oct. 23, it was the Twins vs. the Atlanta Braves, a rematch of the dramatic 1991 World Series.
That was the same year, of course, as the great Halloween blizzard. Call it fate, blame it on unlucky 13. On Oct. 31, Halloween night, as fans funneled into the Dome for the decisive seventh game, the snow started to fall …
Roger Barr is a writer who lives in St. Paul.