Weather Forecast


Deep freeze settles in: Wednesday forecast calls for wind chills at 60 below

Mail carrier Victor Phelps pauses for a moment on Tuesday morning along Third Street Northwest in downtown Bemidji. According to the National Weather Service, it was 25 below at that time with a 55 below windchill. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
A grocery carrier walks the cart back inside of Lueken’s Village Foods South on Tuesday morning in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer) 2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- In the winter of 1950, Ira Batchelder had to wake up every three hours to record the temperature at the airport, where he slept in the administration building. He’d put the alarm clock in a tin can to make sure he heard it. Then, he’d bundle up and walk out to take the reading.

He got a particularly cold result the morning of Jan. 30 -- it was 50 degrees below zero. After he submitted his report, Batchelder, received a message from the Minneapolis office asking him to confirm the reading. Even a news organization from Detroit was wondering if they’d heard the temperature right.  

The Northland Times, a weekly newspaper in Bemidji, ran a front page story on Batchelder, who’s now 90, and a colleague under the headline “Life Continues at 50 Below.”

Batchelder’s story is one that many in the area can relate to this week, 69 years later to the day, as they watch the mercury fall farther than they may have ever thought possible.   

Although the actual temperature might not reach quite as low as it did in 1950, it’ll get close. The temperature Tuesday night is expected to hit 39 below with a wind chill of 63 below. Wednesday will then bear the worst of the cold snap, with the temperature at 20 below and the wind chill possibly reaching 65 below, according to the National Weather Service.

The forecast will then bounce back some, with a high temperature of 4 below on Thursday and 13 above on Friday.

A number of area schools that closed Tuesday for the cold will remain closed Wednesday, including BSU and NTC, as well as the Bemidji, Red Lake, Cass Lake-Bena, Bagley and Blackduck school districts.

At least a few local businesses and organizations also have closed or changed their hours to account for the cold weather blasting the region and the state, which led to wind chill warning from the weather service.

In addition to the cold, blowing snow also was making travel difficult in some areas. A travel advisory was issued for northeast North Dakota, and many roads in northwest and central Minnesota were listed as snow-covered on the Minnesota Department of Transportation website.

It may have been officially colder that day nearly 70 years ago when Batchelder was working at the airport. With today’s wind chills factored in, though, it may not have been. Either way, when the temperature reaches a certain point on the thermometer, meteorologists are just splitting hairs more than anything. Larry Em, the writer of the article that ran in the Northland Times, noted as much:  

“People here have the philosophy: ‘After it gets to be 40 below, what’s a few more degrees?’” Em wrote.

Watch for frostbite

That being said, anyone venturing outside for more than a few, teeth-chattering moments should be careful. Symptoms of frostbite can include redness or pain on the skin, white or grey-yellow areas of skin, skin that feels “unusually firm or waxy,” and numbness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Contrary to what may seem like common sense, those with frostbite should not rub or massage frostbitten areas; use a heating pad or electric blanket; or use a fireplace, heat lamp, radiator or stove to warm up by, according to the CDC.

Dr. Joe Corser with Sanford Health said he sees a fair number of frostbite and hypothermia cases come through the hospital doors. With mild cases, he said submerging the tissue in a tub  of warm water may help it heal.

“You want to do rapid rewarming,” Corser said. “That water that’s in your tissue has turned into ice crystals. So if you try to massage it, all you’re doing is cutting up the tissue with the millions of microscopic little ice crystals that are in the tissue.”

With more severe cases, however, he said the hospital may need to provide additional tests to determine how well the person’s blood vessels are working.

Either way, if the weather gets cold enough to impress the locals, it certainly has the power to impress those from out of state.

Just a few years after Batcheldor took that reading of 50 below, Bemidji received a visit from former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. She subsequently wrote about her visit to the northland in her column, “My Day,” which is archived online with George Washington University.

“Bemidji itself is called the icebox of the U.S. and frequently in winter they have temperatures of 40 degrees below zero,” Roosevelt wrote. “The evening I was there it turned chilly and I could feel what a frosty breath could come to that area.”

Jordan Shearer

Jordan Shearer covers crime and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. A Rochester native and Bemidji State grad, he previously spent several years in western Nebraska writing for the Keith County News. Follow him on Twitter @Jmanassa

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