Winter arrived nearly two months late in the Twin Cities, but for some Minnesota transplants it was still a surprise.
As temperatures dip below zero this week, keeping Minnesota enveloped in a deep freeze — Sunday’s high is -9 degrees (-45 with windchill) — we wanted to prepare new arrivals for what’s to come. Wondering why you moved to this tundra and how long the bitter cold will last? Too long.
So our advice: May as well embrace it, with a few caveats that involve proper clothing, pet care and when to admit enough is enough.
Thermals are your friend
No one is too cool for long underwear.
If you’re going to survive morning commutes that involve more than a few minutes outside in Arctic-like weather, layering is essential. Don’t be the woman I saw wearing capris in single-digit temperatures this week. Sure, she looks cute. But she’s dying on the inside.
Frostbite is a real concern when temperatures turn negative: some studies show that tissue can become damaged after just 20 to 30 minutes in -10 degree weather. Wet clothing or high winds dramatically accelerate that time frame. Extremities are most vulnerable.
“It’s part of our body’s way of protecting itself,” said Dr. Ryan Fey, a surgeon at HCMC’s Burn Center, whose department treats about 25 frostbite patients a year. “Our core temperature keeping the heart, brain, and vital organs happy and healthy is much more important. So from a survival standpoint, we sacrifice the limbs first.”
Most of us experience minor “frostnip” during exposure — the angry reddening of the skin that can become tender but goes away once warmed up. But watch for pain and a tingling feeling that can be a first indication of frostbite. If exposed skin becomes rigid, develops blisters or turns purple when reheated, it’s best to seek immediate medical attention.
Will my contacts freeze in my eyes in -25 windchill?
Almost certainly not, Fey said.
Your eyes are protected by good blood flow from the core to the head and neck.
Toes, on the other hand, are always at risk.
When it comes to boots, you can’t go wrong with either Sorels or Mukluks. No matter what, pick something warm and waterproof. Always wear wool socks.
To the amusement of his colleagues, Fey rolls into work this time of year in full winter garb, including a facemask.
“I’ll never win a fashion show,” he said, “but you’ll never see me complaining about the cold.”
How cold is too cold for Spot?
Veterinarians say many dog breeds have a higher threshold for the cold than humans, but smaller breeds with thin coats are more susceptible to hypothermia. Once temperatures drop below 20 degrees, owners should watch their pets closely and not leave them outside for long stretches. Some vets recommend washing your dog’s paws after walks to rinse away the corrosive salt. Coconut oil is also a good trick to keep their paw pads from drying out.
You can buy those ridiculous sweaters, too, but they’re more for your amusement than their comfort.
And if you’re a hipster who walks your cat, maybe don’t.
“Cats know better,” said Dr. Michael McMenomy, owner of Kitty Klinic in south Minneapolis. “Even if you open the door, they’re gonna stay put inside where it’s warm. We broadly recommend they stay in.”
Move your car, man!
It’s Minnesota’s annual hazing.
Each year, like clockwork, thousands of Twin Citians awake to find their vehicles have gone missing overnight. No, your 2001 Kia Optima wasn’t stolen. It was caught by the dreaded tow trucks that clear a path for night plows.
It’s a harsh realization, knowing you’ll be slapped with a (hefty) fine — $138 for regular towing and $175 for “heavy duty” towing. There’s also an $18 storage fee, “applied each midnight.” Uff da.
The Star Tribune’s latest hire, a photographer from Chicago, and his wife both fell into the trap last weekend during Minneapolis’ first snow emergency of the season. They weren’t the only ones; during the three-day plow event, 7,707 tickets were issued and 1,387 vehicles were towed.
Ignore your vehicle manual
Keeping your car running — and getting it to start — in blistering cold is another matter. When you turn the key and your vehicle doesn’t start, it’s usually because the engine is flooded with gasoline.
It’s a common misconception that you’re not supposed to put your foot on the accelerator when you start the car in the winter months, said St. Paul automotive technician Tim Moore. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The gas pedal allows air into the engine to help prevent flooding, he said. It actually helps to press down about an inch while turning the key.
“Even the manuals say ‘don’t put your foot on the accelerator pedal,’” said Moore, founder of Dynotech Auto. “But most of those people don’t live up here.”
Do you really need winter tires? All-season tires are perfectly fine, he said, “as long as the tread is good.”
But it would do you (and your transmission) a favor to wait a few minutes for your engine to warm before peeling off to work, Moore said. This helps get the oil properly flowing.
Move yourself, man!
While everyone deserves some quality time to binge watch Netflix, the key to surviving a Minnesota winter is to keep moving.
Hermitting yourself indoors with spiked eggnog might be fun at first, but most of us get antsy. And watching Law and Order reruns won’t help combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Trust me, I’ve tried.
The good news is that the North Star state has plenty of opportunities to keep the whole family occupied all season long. Take cross-county ski lessons at local parks like Hyland Hills, Theodore Wirth and Elm Creek Park reserves. They all offer packages to get you moving.
Prefer skating? Some 25 neighborhood parks maintain outdoor skating and hockey rinks to use free of charge. Most open in late December.
Are lakes really safe to walk on, much less drive on?
Here, ice in and ice out are real words with real and important meanings. Before you trudge across Lake Calhoun though, it’s best to study the Department of Natural Resouces Ice In policy. Ice In varies lake to lake and generally represents the first time the water is frozen over and will endure for the remainder of the season. In the cities, lakes typically freeze in mid-December. Ice Out is when the water begins to thaw and becomes unsafe for people to walk on.
This weekend, nature enthusiasts will take a winter stroll in snowshoes at Wild River State Park in Center City, Minn., and conservationists will be grabbing binoculars for the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count. Most will only cancel if there’s a blizzard of extreme windchills. Sunday could see both, so check the weather before committing to leaving your couch.
All these activities have the same purpose: see the beauty in Minnesota’s winter.
After you bundle up, I hope you can too.