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Later generations will tell spooky stories about 1991’s Halloween blizzard, when it wasn’t frost on the pumpkin but snowdrifts on jack-o-lanterns greeting intrepid trick-or-treaters in indistinguishable costumes (all looked like snowmen).
Both blizzards are seared in the collective consciousness because of their severity, but also because they coincided with a certain date. Or sometimes a year — such as the Chicago area’s great “Blizzard of ’79.”
As a Minnesotan transplanted there, I was used to winter’s symbiosis of beauty and challenge. The blizzard was indeed beautiful, but beyond challenging: It paralyzed the area. My suburban high school was closed for a week. Abandoned cars, akimbo in narrow streets, gridlocked the city, and even the fabled elevated trains were laid low.
No machine seemed to work — including the political one Mayor Michael Bilandic inherited from the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. Bilandic’s bungled blizzard response resulted in upstart Jane Byrne’s upset election as mayor just months later.
But for me, the most remarkable snowstorm doesn’t have an identifiable date or dynamic like an election, and thus doesn’t live in lore. Or maybe because it was two storms: On Jan. 20-21, 1982, 17.4 inches of snow fell in the Twin Cities. A day later, a new storm began, bringing 20 inches.
Unlike Chicago, the Twin Cities didn’t stop. Slowed? Sure. The U closed — for half a day. But what I remember most were students — and several professors — gleefully skiing through Dinkytown, on the right side of the beauty/challenge equation.
JOHN RASH, editorial writer
I came a little late in life to appreciating Minnesota winters.
Oh, as a St. Paul native, I have fond childhood memories of gleefully playing in winter weather — sliding down hills and throwing snowballs. But that was kids’ stuff. Once I could make my own decisions, I promptly dissed my home state and became a vacation snob. It wasn’t a “real’’ vacation or getaway unless you got on a plane and escaped.
However, during my late 30s, friends encouraged me and my young daughter to take downhill-skiing lessons. That was a turning point; having fun again and a good reason to look for snow helped me welcome winter. Now I enjoy a cozy cabin and dogsledding Up North just as much as an ocean view and partying on a Caribbean beach.
Despite my winter attitude adjustment, I can still complain about it with the best of them. After all, playing is one thing — navigating, shoveling and piling on enough clothes is another. Our recent early December cold snap, for example, got a few “And why do we live here again?’’ type comments out of me. But that’s just part of making Minnesota Nice small talk.
Actually, there have been many springs when I was sad to see the white stuff go. Why? Because that lovely white replacement for grass gives way to the fifth and worst season we have — the ugly, gray, slushy, gritty time after the snow goes but before anything turns green around here. It’s the time when all the crap people throw on the ground is revealed and comes back to haunt us. That’s worse and more depressing than the landscape in the dead of winter.
DENISE JOHNSON, editorial writer
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.