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Tom Carbone, Forum News Service, Published April 21 2013

Tom Carbone: I survived my first North Dakota winter

GRAND FORKS - I was born in sunny Los Angeles, and after hopping around the United States for a few years, my family settled in Orlando, Fla. I attended middle school and high school in the Sunshine State and soaked in the rays as much as possible.

Florida weather is probably what you would expect — ungodly humid and hot in the summer, and mild, if not a bit unpredictable in the winter. It could be 80 degrees on Christmas Day and 50 on New Year’s Eve. One thing’s for sure — Florida is never “cold” by North Dakota standards.

So, you can probably imagine the reaction my family and friends had when I told them I was moving to North Dakota for a job.

“Where’s North Dakota?”

“I love the movie Fargo!”

“Oh, Mount Rushmore seems neat!” (I confess, the last one was my initial thought. I was a journalism major, not a geography major.)

Northerners tried to warn me about infamous North Dakota winters. Bitter temps, blizzards, below-freezing weeks, etc. I shrugged it off and figured if I could handle one extreme (August in Florida), I could surely handle the other extreme.

What they didn’t tell me is there was a chance we could have snow from October to April, so you can imagine my surprise the past few weeks when we’ve had below-freezing temperatures and constant snowfall.

So, here are my tips to any non-North Dakotan about what I learned during my first winter up here.

The purpose of this column is to give outsiders an idea of what to actually expect from a North Dakota winter.

• There are going to be days your car won’t start, and if you aren’t prepared for this, there’s nothing you can do about it. On a related note, there will also be days when you have to dig your car out of a parking space. Didn’t bring a shovel with you? Tough luck! Hopefully, you had the foresight to keep a snow shovel in the trunk of your car.

• If someone sees you struggling with getting your car out of a parking space, chances are, they’ll hop out of their vehicle and help. North Dakota is nice like that. I’m not fully convinced I would have done this when I attended college in Missouri, but after one North Dakota winter, it felt like second nature to help people when they’re struggling with snow.

• During winter, people will leave their cars running while they grocery-shop and not worry it might be stolen. I first experienced this phenomenon on a 30-below-zero day in January. I pulled into the grocery store lot and noticed everyone’s cars were running. I decided not to push my luck and turned my car off before going inside. When I came back out, the inside of my car felt like a deep freezer, and I could see my breath the entire ride home. That was the last time I turned my car off before going inside the grocery store.

• Everyday feels feel colder than the last from December to February. Whether it’s 30, 20 or 10 below, it’s still going to hurt to go outside. I quickly learned to never emerge from my apartment unless it was to go to work, to restock on food or to go to the bar.

• Even the most seasoned North Dakotans complain about the weather. For a few weeks, I tried to keep my complaints to a minimum because I didn’t want native North Dakotans to think I was a wimp. To my surprise, it wasn’t long before we were all complaining about the weather. At the end of the day, even if you’ve lived here for 50 years, nobody wants to go out into the 30 below temp to dig their car out of a parking spot so they can get food.

• Nothing could have prepared me for my first North Dakota winter. The only way to truly understand is to experience it. And despite the bone-chilling temps for four months and the seven months of snow, I’m glad I lived it for one reason — which my grandfather pointed out to me.

He said, “You have now experienced a colder winter than anyone in our family, so you’ve got that going for you.”

And I couldn’t agree more.