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Published January 06 2014

Forum editorial: It’s cold, but what else is new?

Ed McMahon used to ask late-night television host Johnny Carson, “how cold is it?” The gag was anticipated whenever the weather in Southern California was, by California standards, cold. “It’s so cold,” Johnny would respond, “that …” and then came the punch line.

So, how cold is it in North Dakota and Minnesota? Quite cold, but by standards of the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, it is not unusually cold. For example, December seemed ferociously cold, but it was not cold enough to rank in the top 10 of the coldest Decembers in the Fargo-Moorhead region. January is off to a frigid start, but as of today, no low-temperature records have been broken.

Statistics tell one story. The effects of an extended cold snap tell another. Records or not, it feels extremely cold because, well, it is. By any common-sense measure, 24 below zero in the morning accompanied by a stiff breeze are numbingly cold phenomena. And when the high at midday is stuck at double-digit subzero numbers, no spinning of records and statistics can ameliorate the effects of such intense cold.

Residents who have lived in the Red River Valley a long time expect deep cold in mid-winter. It’s a rare winter that is remembered as “warm,” that is only a couple of subzero days. “We’re used to it,” we like to say.

Fair enough. But there are more newcomers to the region than ever before. Many of them hail from places that never get so cold. For them, below-zero temperatures are as alien as mosquitoes in January are to Fargoans. Consider: How would you like to be an Oklahoman who migrated to North Dakota to work in the Bakken oil boom? Can you imagine what conditions must be like on an oil rig during this cold spell?

It won’t last forever. It never does. Indeed, the forecast indicates warming by the end of the week to daytime highs flirting with 35 degrees above zero. That is positively balmy.

And more good news: Thus far, the region has not been socked with a genuine blizzard. If the forecast is right, there is no stormy weather in sight for at least a week.

So, “how cold is it?” Really cold but bearable. Life and commerce and travel have not been paralyzed. Most people know how to deal with what is, in fact, rather routine weather up here. It’s not much fun, but take heart: A slight warm-up is not far off.


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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.