Don’t Be ‘That’ Minnesotan

Minnesotans are proud of our ability to withstand snow, ice and extremely cold temperatures. I’m not immune — I would have been disappointed if we made it an entire winter without below-zero temps.

But, what I wish we wouldn’t do is express that pride by making fun of the winter weather in other parts of the country. Especially now that climate change is showing us what it can do. All bets are off, folks.

In particular, Texas is on my mind this week. The Dallas-Fort Worth area, oddly enough, has a 35E and 35W just like we do here in the Twin Cities. Of course, those two cities are 30 miles apart instead of only 10, but it’s a fun thing to have in common.

Just last week, a half mile of their 35W was iced over. Right before the morning commute. I can pontificate until the long horn cattle come home about the land use decisions that got us to a freeway-based commute in the DFW area. But, in this moment, there were people in 133 vehicles that ended up in a massive crash. A friend from Texas sent me a “crazy” video, but after watching one jack-knifed semi run into cars that were already half the size they used to be, I knew I was watching people die. I couldn’t finish watching.

In the end, six people died. It took several days to identify them all. Dozens were injured. Lives were permanently changed.

Here in Minnesota, we get some ice, but mostly we get snow and slush and “wintry mix.” We have snow plows and salt trucks. Southern states get ice. There’s not enough salt in the world to melt miles and miles of ice that can be up to 1/2 inch thick. The only thing to do is just stay put until it melts.

As a Minnesotan, I know how to drive in snow and I know how to push a car out of a snowbank. But I absolutely would not be able to drive on a sheet of ice like that. There’s nothing about being from/living at this latitude that endows me with such skills.

Snowy wind-swept field in northern MN as seen from the passenger seat of a car.
View of snow from car window

This week, something kind of terrifying is happening in the south. On Monday it was in the single digits in Texas, and in the 20s in Louisiana. It’s tempting to be a smug Minnesotan and say, “What? Only 5 F? it’s -15 F here!” “What a bunch of wimps!” “Ha ha! I wish it was that warm here — wanna trade?”

National temperature map showing a cold front extending from MN all the way south to Texas. Temps in Texas range from 0 to 20 degrees.
Map of Monday’s temperatures in the US

Last February, our furnace went out. I think it was in the teens outside. We got an emergency service call at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. They lent us some electric space heaters that we strategically placed in the kitchen to keep the pipes from freezing and in the bedrooms so we could sleep. Temps in our house hovered in the upper 50s, but nothing froze. I wore a hat to bed, but I was fine. It was still a nerve-wracking 24 hours before the new furnace was installed the next day. Friends and family expressed concern, they didn’t poke fun.

Last week, a transformer in our neighborhood blew. We were without power for a few hours, and internal temps started to drop after only a couple of minutes. Power came back on a few hours later, but if it hadn’t the roads were clear and we could probably pack up the cats and stay in a hotel over night.

Here’s what a friend in Austin told us Monday morning: The energy demands to heat all the homes in the affected area are just too high. They are out of options. They’ve gone from buying energy from nearby grids (stage 1) to shutting down industrial uses to conserve power (stage 2) to rolling blackouts in residential areas (stage 3). The wind turbines they use down there aren’t designed for temps this cold and they’re frozen. People are running out of propane for backup heaters. There. Is. No. Heat. And the roads are still a sheet of ice, so leaving isn’t an option.

Monday’s overnight low in Austin is 9. It’s been 9 degrees here. I’ve even bundled up in cold weather gear, gone outside and enjoyed myself in 9 degree weather. But then, when I was done, I went back inside a heated building.

I watched the NYT documentary about Britney Spears recently. In the late ’90s, I despised pop music. I was into the much better (?) genres of grunge and alternative rock. I thought Britney Spears was a dumb party girl not worth my time. Twenty-five years later, having listened to the Seeing White podcast (Episode 6 in particular), and watching the documentary, I’ve come to realize that a big part of my judgement of her in particular was because of her Louisiana accent.

Episode 6, season 2 of Minnesotan John Biewen’s “Seeing White” podcast is titled: “That’s Not Us, So We’re Clean.”

Growing up in the North, I’d learned to dismiss the South as all kinds of things: racist, poor, uneducated, totally incapable of dealing with “normal” weather. I can’t help but think that some of this judgment that we smugly pass from inside our heated, well-insulated homes, is wrapped up in that.

This isn’t normal. Don’t be that Minnesotan. Seeing these stories shouldn’t elicit a “Ha ha, bunch of wimps!” response. There are plenty of things to joke about in this world. For example, did you know that giraffes can swim? We need to take climate change seriously, and we need to take the impacts on humans seriously, regardless of where they live or how they talk.

Hannah Pritchard

About Hannah Pritchard

Hannah Pritchard is a pedestrian and bicycle engineer at MnDOT. Bicycle commuter, bassoonist, and cat enthusiast, Hannah has been part of the streets.mn board since 2016.