Baby, It's Cold Outside

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

Minnesota was settled mainly by Scandinavian immigrants, with a healthy dose of German and Russian thrown in. We joke that they came because they wanted to stay somewhere cold like their homelands, and there is some truth to it. For example, Bob Dylan is from northern Minnesota. His grandparents immigrated from Russia, choosing Minnesota in part because it was the closest weather to Russia that the New World could provide. While that's probably not the reason why most came here, it's a good tale to add to our folklore.

I found this map on the ole' Google awhile back and I really like it despite its over-generalizations. As a basic comparison tool, it does the trick. I use it to show friends who are from elsewhere that, as much as they complain about how cold it gets wherever they live, they probably don't really know what true cold feels like. (Yeah, I know, I'm that person. I didn't used to be but after years of living in temperate climates with folks mansplaining.cold to me, I've turned into an annoying eye-roller. Living in Washington DC especially brought this out in me) And if you don't know your American geography that well, Minnesota is solidly in the "Russia" section of this map.

This cold is especially true of Duluth, in northern Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior. This is one of the world's largest lakes (largest by surface area, third largest by volume), and the water acts as a refrigerator for the region. Summers are typically cool and winters are absolutely freezing. I went to university in Duluth and the school was one giant building because each college was connected by long hallways in order to ensure the students and faculty spent as little time outside as possible. My second winter there was an especially cold one, when the city went nearly one month without temperatures reaching 0 degrees (-18 Celsius).

While Duluth is the coldest of Minnesota's cities, there is nowhere in the state where you can escape a bitterly cold January. I am from the southern suburbs of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), and the photo to the right is what the interior of my childhood bedroom window looks like during particularly cold Februarys.

Pro tip: if you are driving in this weather, it is essential to keep the following in your car: a shovel, an ice scraper, a blanket (or three), and possibly a bag of salt/sand. This will ensure that if your car breaks down, or if you find yourself stuck in a snow drift (it happens to the best of us), you will be safe and able to either get your car out or keep yourself warm until help arrives. At home, most people have snowblowers (see above photo) in order to clear their driveways quickly. The last thing you want to be doing at 6am before work, or at 5pm after a long day, is shovel heavy snow.

I tell people who are thinking of visiting Minnesota to come in winter if they want an experience, but come in summer if they want a wonderful vacation. As the photo on the right shows, we do actually have months in which grilling is possible. Our summers are glorious, made all the better because the population knows that in only a few short months, the snow and cold will return. I've never lived somewhere else that embraces summer in quite the same tenacity as do Minnesotans. The 10,000+ lakes are good for ice fishing in winter, but they turn into spectacular playgrounds for dozens of activities between Memorial and Labor Days.

So why do people live here, if its so disgustingly cold? Well, summers really are glorious . Fall is lovely, but that brisk orange-leaved wonderland is only around for about three weeks before grey skies and cold air take over. A few weeks after that, the snow starts to fall but at least that coincides with Christmas so the first month of winter is full of merriment and pretty lights. But then we settle into the long, northern winter. Some hate every second of it, but most people, especially children, find ways to enjoy it. I cannot imagine a childhood not full of sledding and intricate snow forts.

Ice hockey is the state's most culturally significant sport. Minnesota is always well represented on the Olympic hockey teams, as well as the Winter Olympic team overall. Every March is the state's high school boys hockey tournament, which nearly shuts the state down. To this day, the most invested I ever am about sports is my high school's boy's hockey team. They won the title back in 2015, it was very exciting. And given the state of the rest of Minnesota sports, it's the best any of my teams will probably ever do (For something fun, check out the annual Hockey Hair Tournament. 2015's was especially good.).

Admittedly, I do not enjoy Minnesota winters as much as I did as a child. It's a lot harder to convince adults to build snow forts and go sledding, and my self-confidence isn't quite high enough to do that on my own. I have spent very few winters since university in the state, and I can't say I miss the weather terribly. What I do miss is the culture around winter, the love of hockey, and of course the beauty of an actually white Christmas. And I will forever by the eye-roller in the temperate corner who is proud of how cold Minnesota is.