1 a.m. Wednesday: Putting out a call for power grid help
While many Minnesotans were still asleep Wednesday, a behind-the-scenes crew made sure people had enough power to turn on lights, make coffee and flip on their TV.
At a building in Eagan, staff with Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) scrutinized the power being consumed versus what was available across a 15-state portion of the North American electrical grid. MISO is one of several regional entities that coordinate how power flows across the grid.
A cold snap can elevate electricity demand due to electric heating elements and furnaces frequently booting up.
Demand was coming in slightly ahead of the forecast overnight, with power plants across MISO’s network experiencing more outages than expected. About 1 a.m., staff in several states called in emergency help. MISO declared a “maximum generation event,” stirring to life idle power plants from Minnesota to Louisiana to meet demand.
3 a.m.: Cows do well as farmer fights cold
Brian Pieper rolled out of bed in New Prague, Minn., put on two pairs of longjohns, an underwear shirt, a sweatshirt, a pair of insulated bib overalls and a jacket and two pairs of gloves.
He grabbed a Mountain Dew and a few granola bars and jumped in his truck. By 3:15, he was at his family dairy farm outside town, where he and his siblings milk 420 cows twice a day.
The temperature: 30 below, with a minus-57 windchill.
The cows do fine in this weather, he said. Their body heat keeps the unheated barn about 30 degrees warmer than the temperature outside, and their winter coats are thick. He’s more worried about next week, when temperatures are expected to soar above freezing.
“It’s a 90-degree spread in a couple of days,” he said. “That’s hard on the cattle.”
4 a.m.: Firefighters face challenge at blaze
It was just before 4:30 a.m., and the strong smell of smoke pulled Micaela and Dana Elzea out of sleep. They opened the door to flashing lights swimming in fog. Clouds of water vapor hung like a thick white shroud on St. Paul’s Hatch Avenue. Quick calls to neighbors and 911 confirmed the fire and the Elzeas got out.
Firefighters, using a bus to warm up, “were fighting the fire in shifts, like in a hockey game,” Dana Elzea said.
Over the next nine hours, more than 50 firefighters battled a blaze and deadly cold that would put a fire truck out of commission and continually seize up a balky fire hydrant. The house’s floor and roof collapsed. But no one was hurt.
Before the fire was extinguished, Dana and Micaela returned with donuts for the crews.
“I just wanted to say ‘Thank you for all you do to keep us safe,’ ” Dana said.
6 a.m.: Garbage collection goes on in Mpls.
The sun had yet to rise when Danny Dick and his partner pulled a garbage truck out of a north Minneapolis public works garage. Unlike some cities, Minneapolis did not cancel trash service Wednesday — though it gave workers the option not to go out.
They reached southwest Minneapolis around 6:40 a.m. and sprung into action, collecting trash from alleyside bins. Dick said they were proud to be working in the deep freeze.
“We’re both kind of old-school guys and we thought, ‘Hey, this is something we’ll be able to tell our future grandchildren and children,’ ” Dick said. “It’s more or less bragging rights — ‘Oh you stayed home? Well I toughed it out and went out and I did this.’ ”
1 p.m.: Battling elements in somber burial duty
Some moments defied the cold.
The gravediggers at Fort Snelling cemetery stood in the full sun just after 1 p.m., working fast so that the fresh dirt didn’t clump in the cold.
Steam curled skyward as the soil slid off the back of the truck and piled into a 5-foot-deep hole ringed by snow, where John Voita had been laid to rest.
Todd Edison fussed over the mound, pulling his rake over the dirt before tamping it down flat. Ice clung to his beard in spots uncovered by his mask and ski goggles.
“Most of us are veterans. We try to take care of our own,” said Edison. “People are still dying, and they need to be buried.”
1:15 p.m.: Eviction threat stirs anxiety, resentment
Brenda Whitehead sat beside piles of clothes she placed on a bench in the Hennepin Housing Court in downtown Minneapolis. She called ahead of time, she said, just to make sure it was open.
“I was like, ‘Really?’ ” Whitehead said after she was told she needs to show up for her eviction hearing. “Everything is closed. Schools are closed. Not here. It’s like they don’t care.”
The north Minneapolis resident, who lives in a subsidized public housing duplex, collected her clothes when the courtroom opened. When the proceedings started, a judge asked tenants and attorneys to see if they could reach a settlement agreement. Whitehead stepped out of the courtroom to talk to an attorney. When she returned, her concern about waiting for a bus in the deep freeze was clouded by how she could afford to pay up to four months’ rent by Feb. 8, plus more than $300 court fees.
Whitehead, who said she has diabetes and other illnesses, has applied for disability benefits and her application is pending. When she exited the courtroom, she looked through the glass windows in the court hallway.
“I should have been home resting,” she said.
4:30 p.m.: Steamy sauna offers a zany counterpoint
Amal Karim, her boyfriend Bryan Boyce and roommate Heather Wares wrapped towels around their waists and stepped inside a sauna years in the making near their northeast Minneapolis home. Inside, a thermometer read 190 degrees. A few minutes later, beads of sweat trickled down their bodies.
Karim, who’s originally from Bangladesh, and Boyce, from Waseca, Minn., started dating in 2013 while they were both Teach for America corps members teaching at a reservation in South Dakota.
They struck a deal. If Karim moved to Minnesota, Boyce would build a sauna. He did, and put the final touches on last month.
“Just in time for literally the coldest weather I have experienced in my life,” Karim said.
5 p.m.: One answer: Leave the cold behind
Don and Gail Olson of Eagan stood in a vestibule at Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, bags in tow, waiting for a ride. Each time the automatic door swished open, a blast of Arctic air rushed in. The couple was returning from Phoenix, where they had decamped since New Year’s Eve.
“We’ve been watching the weather every day, and our kids have been telling us about it,” Don said. But the Olsons are not long for this bitter climate — they’re heading for Cuba later this week.
“We planned well,” Don remarked.
Staff Writers Eric Roper, Mukhtar Ibrahim, Janet Moore, Hannah Covington, James Walsh, John Reinan and David Mullen, a University of Minnesota intern, contributed to this report.