THURSDAY MORNING, 10:30 a.m. AND SNOW is still falling here in Faribault. But the sun is breaking through and I am hopeful the snow will soon end. The unofficial yardstick reading on our patio is 14 inches from this three-day weather event.
Randy is blowing the driveway open as I write. Just as he nearly finished clearing the end, the city plow arrived, blading a windrow of snow back across the driveway. Timing. Now he’s working on removing that ridge. This is not unexpected; we Minnesotans assume this will always happen.
Neighbors have emerged, too, blowing snow from sidewalks and drives. Across the street, neighbor boys are outside playing. I watched as one scooped snow onto his shovel, waited and then promptly dumped the load onto his brother’s head. Nearby, Dad continued working the snowblower.
This is a snow day for Minnesota kids. E-learning and distance learning or maybe no learning at all.
A mom and her two little ones are out walking the dog.
Businesses and public places—the arts center, the library, the mall, the shoe store—are either closed or opening late. People seem to be heeding the warnings to stay home and off roadways. Even Randy is staying home from work today.
Traffic, mostly non-existent earlier, is picking up along our main arterial street. Mostly snowplows and pick-up trucks pulling trailers loaded with snow removal equipment.
In the extreme southwestern corner of Minnesota, my native prairie, a portion of Interstate 90 remains closed along with many state highways. Wind whips this light snow, creating whiteout conditions, snowdrifts feet high and impassable roads. The National Guard is standing by to launch roadside rescues if needed.
As snowstorms go, I’ve experienced much worse, especially as a Redwood County farm kid. I respect winter in Minnesota, understand the dangers when a major storm descends. And today, although this storm was not quite the historic storm predicted, I’m good with that. With some 14 inches of total snowfall, that’s enough for me, and Randy.
TELL ME: If you live in Minnesota, how much snow did you get? If you live elsewhere, are you experiencing any bad weather? I’d like to hear your stories.
WINTER IN MINNESOTA can be decidedly difficult in the sort of way that challenges us to either adjust, adapt or embrace, or flee to Arizona, Texas or Florida.
That got me thinking. If you’re not from the Bold (Cold) North, you may be unfamiliar with our winter weather obsession and terminology. Wind chill is an oft-referenced word in Minnesota winter weather forecasts. Defined, that’s the feels like temp on skin when wind meets air temperature. The result is not pleasant with repeated warnings of exposed flesh can freeze in just minutes. That’s the time to layer up, don long johns, pull out the heavy parka or down coat, shove hands into mittens (not gloves), wrap your face and neck in a scarf, clamp on a warm hat and lace lined boots over thick wool socks. Or stay indoors. Just for the record, recent Minnesota wind chills have been between 20-35 degrees below zero.
YES, MINNESOTANS REALLY DO DRIVE ONTO FROZEN LAKES
Regarding risk, Minnesotans continue to participate in a sem- risky winter sport. Ice fishing. As absurd as this sounds to those who have never lived in a cold weather state, this is the sport of angling for fish on a frozen lake. It can be (mostly) safe if anglers follow basic rules for ice safety, the first being that no ice is ever 100 percent safe and know your lake. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers basic ice thickness guidelines such as stay off ice less than four inches thick. If it’s four inches thick, you can walk on lake ice. Nine to 10 inches of ice will support a small car or SUV. You’ll need 16-17 inches to drive a heavy truck onto a frozen lake and so on. Every winter vehicles plunge through the ice and people lose their lives on Minnesota lakes.
Yet, we Minnesotans continue to embrace the sport, exercising caution. Clusters of simple pop-up temporary day houses to homemade wooden shacks to fancy sleep-overnight factory models create mini villages on our frozen lakes. Anglers hang out therein, drilling holes in the ice, drinking beer, playing cards and doing whatever while waiting for the fish to bite. Decades have passed since I participated in this winter sport. But I did. It was the cracking noise of the ice that got to me.
PENGUINS, FIRE & UP ON THE ROOFTOP
Ice. I quite dislike that aspect of winter. And we’ve had a lot of ice this winter on roads, sidewalks, parking lots, every hard surface. As I age, my fear of falling and breaking a bone is real. I deal with ice by either staying off it or walking like a penguin.
Recently I observed my neighbor trying to remove ice from his driveway with fire fueled by a small portable propane tank. It was the weirdest thing—to see this flame in the black of evening aimed downward onto his cement driveway. It didn’t work well. The next evening, two of them were out chipping at ice the old-fashioned way with a long-handled bladed tool designed for that purpose.
Yes, we chip ice from our sidewalks and driveways. We shovel snow from our roofs in an effort to prevent ice dams (of which there are many this winter). Getting through a Minnesota winter, especially one as snowy as this season, requires fortitude and effort.
CELEBRATING PAUL BUNYAN STYLE
Winter here also requires plenty of flannel, our unofficial winter attire. I recently purchased two flannel shirts to replace two that I’d worn thread-bare. I love my flannel. It’s comfy and cozy and warm and makes me feel Paul Bunyan authentic. If you’re unfamiliar with Paul, let me explain. He’s a legendary lumberjack, a symbol of strength and endurance. And he wears red buffalo plaid flannel. My community even celebrates flannel with the Faribault Flannel Formal, set for 5:30-9 pm Saturday, March 11, at Craft Beverage Curve (10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and Corks & Pints)). And, yes, that means attendees wear flannel, sample hotdishes (the Minnesota term for casseroles) and participate in lumberjack games. Yeah, sure, ya betcha. This is how we survive winter in the Bold (Cold) North.
WAY TO GO, MINNESOTA! We are living up to our reputation as a snowy state. With more than three months of winter remaining, we’ve already surpassed our seasonal annual average snowfall of 51.2 inches by an inch.
Our 2022-2023 seasonal to-date total of 52.1 inches (recorded in the Twin Cities) likely comes as no surprise to anyone who lives in the North Star State. Winter storm after winter storm after winter storm has left us, or at least me, feeling winter-weary. Once again Thursday evening I donned my winter wear, pulled on my practical winter boots and headed outdoors to assist Randy with snow removal. This time some seven inches of new-fallen snow.
I work the three shovels while Randy guides our massive hefty ancient snowblower down the sidewalk and driveway. There are places a snowblower can’t go and those spots—the front sidewalk and steps and along the side of the garage by the garbage cans and recycling bin—are my responsibility. I’m happy to help. Well, maybe not exactly happy, but rather willing.
Randy advised me to be careful around the garage due to ice. I appreciated his warning as the last thing I need is to slip, fall and break a bone or suffer a concussion. That’s a concern for both of us as we age. I read a recent report that, if you’re over the age of 45, you should leave the snow shoveling to someone else. I just laughed. While reasonable health advice, it’s not exactly practical for most Minnesotans.
I take baby steps while traversing snow and ice, the penguin shuffle I believe is the proper term. Yet, I realize that’s no guarantee of safety. I also pace myself while shoveling. Thankfully our Wednesday into Thursday snow was low in moisture content, thus light and easy to shovel and blow. It’s the heavy snow that makes for challenging and health-risky snow removal.
But I encountered a new problem on Thursday. On several occasions, the snow I tossed with a scoop shovel tumbled right back onto the surface from which I’d just removed it. The problem: The snow is now banking so high along sidewalk and driveway edges that it needs to be strategically thrown. High enough and far enough.
Once we’d finished our snow removal assignments, Randy and I worked on clearing the driveway of snow down to the concrete. Part of the front metal scraper is broken off our aged snowblower, meaning a layer of snow now remains. Thursday evening I used the wide metal shovel and Randy the plastic one as we attempted to get under the snow and peel it away. Sometimes that approach worked well, sometimes not.
We remained cognizant of ice underneath. Randy advised caution near the down spout and I pointed out a patch of black ice where the concrete dips. In the end, we did the best we could and called it done…until the next winter storm rolls into southern Minnesota.
WHEN WINTER WALLOPS MINNESOTA, Minnesotans get resourceful. Or at least that proved true for Randy on Saturday morning when he suited up in his Dickies coveralls and assorted winter gear to remove snow from the end of the sidewalk.
Before he exited the house, I advised him to pace himself given his age and the knowledge that the snow deposited by the city plow would be heavy. We had no idea.
I watched from the window while Randy tossed scoopfuls of rock hard snow onto ever-growing mounds banking the sidewalk. He seemed to be following my take-it-easy advice by occasionally pausing to rest. But then he stopped, headed up the street toward the driveway, then the garage. I figured he was coming inside to warm up.
Not so. Rather he walked out of the garage with an ax. Yes, the tool used to fell trees, split wood or in the recreational competition of ax throwing.
It didn’t take long to see what Randy had in mind. Soon he was swinging the ax into the snow wall lodged at sidewalk’s end. The moisture-heavy snow bladed there by the city plow froze overnight, making it impossible to shovel without first splitting the solid chunks. Unbelievable.
Randy worked tirelessly swinging the ax blade into the rock pack. Swing. Swing. Swing. Then he set the ax aside, grabbed the scoop shovel and flung the snow rocks aside. He repeated the process until the sidewalk end was cleared.
In all the decades of removing snow, and I’ve done plenty of snow-clearing, too (including sidewalk and driveway ends), we’ve never resorted to using an ax. But Paul Bunyan would have been proud of Randy’s resourcefulness. To survive in Minnesota, you sometimes need to think like a legendary lumberjack.
HERE IT IS, only a few days into 2023 and Minnesota has already experienced its first major multi-day winter weather event of the new year. Snow. Ice. Freezing rain. Sleet. Drizzle. Everything.
This storm comes on the heels of a major pre-Christmas snowstorm that essentially shut down travel in the southern half of our state. The fall-out is much the same. Snow-packed, icy roads. Crashes and spin-outs. Schools closed. Flights delayed and cancelled. A Delta jet from Mexico slid off an icy taxiway early Tuesday evening at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. No one was injured.
Tuesday and Wednesday were a weather mess here. Randy’s commutes, typically a 35-minute drive, took nearly an hour. He drove on several miles of a snow-covered state highway untouched by a snowplow blade and on snow-compacted, icy roads the remainder of the way.
And then we had to deal with removing snow from our sidewalk and driveway. We are fortunate to own a snowblower. But it is ancient, bulky, subject to break-downs. Sheered pins. A metal ground plate so rusty that Randy finally removed it.
Heavy, wet snow like this is difficult to blow. The chute clogs, requiring frequent stops to clear the snow with something other than a hand. Chunks of snow bladed from the street into the ends of the driveway and sidewalk can’t be blown. That requires back-breaking shoveling. I felt like I was lifting rocks as I bent, scooped, heaved the heavy, moisture-laden snow atop the ever-growing mounds banking the drive and sidewalk ends. I paced myself, cognizant of my age and this heavy snow being “heart attack” or “widow maker” type snow.
Just as I’d nearly finished clearing the driveway end, the guy removing snow from my neighbor’s property with a utility vehicle pushed the remaining snow away from our driveway. I felt such gratitude for this act of kindness. I leaned on the scoop shovel handle with a thankful heart.
As I type this late Wednesday morning, snow continues to fall, as it did overnight. The snow removal of yesterday will repeat today. The ends of the driveway and sidewalk are once again blocked by snow chunks plowed from the street.
But when I look beyond that to the woods behind my house, to my neighbors’ trees and bushes and rooftops, I glimpse a winter wonderland. This landscape layered in snow is lovely. Almost like paint-by-number artwork. That is the scene I need to remember when I’m out shoveling later and muttering words best left unwritten about winter storms in Minnesota.
Proper Mailbox Installation will Help Keep it Upright this Winter
Shoveling Driveway Openings
Children Stay Clear of the Street
Keep Trash & Recycling Bins Out of the Street
So basically keep your vehicles (during snow emergencies), garbage cans, snow and kids off streets.
Clear fire hydrants near your home because, you know, if firefighters need to dig out a hydrant, your house could burn down.
Remove snow and ice from sidewalks so pedestrians (especially letter carriers) don’t slip and fall and break a bone. And as long as we’re talking mailboxes, shovel the snow away from them. If a snowplow hits your curbside mailbox (note, you must have it properly installed), call the city.
Don’t blame the city if your water pipes freeze. They’ve advised you to insulate them and take other precautions to prevent freezing.
Also, do not blame city snowplow drivers for plowing snow across the end of your driveway within minutes of your having opened your driveway. That one’s really tough to take. Too many times the plow arrives shortly after all snow has been removed from driveway’s end. Then it’s back to shoveling or blowing, mean-spirited words unheard over the scrape of plow blade upon asphalt.
The city is, after all, grateful for your cooperation as noted in this sentence of gratitude:
Thank you very much for your assistance and patience in getting through another Minnesota winter and plowing season.
You’re welcome, City of Faribault. My words, not theirs.
TELL ME: What’s on your fridge? Anything snow/winter-related?
OUR FIRST MAJOR winter storm of the season dropped about 10 inches of snow in Faribault Friday into the early morning hours of Saturday. But other areas got more. Much more. Double in Woodbury and parts of the metro. Like Lakeville and Eagan.
Saturday morning I grabbed a cup of coffee, ate a bowl of cereal and then headed outside to help Randy with snow removal. I focus on the places he can’t reach with the snowblower. Like the steps. And around the garage. And then I do clean-up, scraping away residual snow.
As I stepped outdoors to a world of white, the sound of scraping shovels and of snowblowers broke any post-storm quiet. Everywhere I looked, neighbors were hard at work clearing sidewalks and driveways of snow.
There’s something comforting in seeing an entire neighborhood working separately, yet together, on a common mission. To dig out after a snowstorm.
I paused, too, to appreciate the beauty of the snow. Layering my neighbor’s evergreen trees.
Topping dried seed heads in my yard. Filling the woods.
Saturday unfolded into a day of blue skies and bright sunshine. Sun intense enough to melt snow from roads and other surfaces. That makes it far easier to get around. Friday evening Randy’s drive home from work along snow-packed Minnesota State Highway 3 took 45 minutes rather than the usual 22 minutes. I felt such relief when he finally pulled into the garage.
Last Saturday, our landscape was devoid of snow as we celebrated Winterfest here in Faribault. What a difference seven days can make.
NOTE: My heart hurts for all those affected by the deadly and devastating tornadoes in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. That storm makes our major winter storm here in Minnesota seem only a minor inconvenience.
A bank sign in Faribault flashes the weather late Saturday afternoon.
SATURDAY BROUGHT SUNSHINE and cold temps to Minnesota. Below zero in the morning, up to 20 in the afternoon. But that is manageable when the sun shines. Everything’s better under sunny skies in the depth of winter.
The grandkids, ages one and three, play hide-and-seek behind curtains for a short while until Grandma decided that probably wasn’t the best idea. (The parents were gone.)
We headed to the north metro to spend time with our eldest and her family, which includes our two darling grandchildren. I think everyone had the same idea to be out and about before the winter storm hit Saturday night. Roads were congested in areas and too many drivers wove in and out of traffic, not bothering to use their signals and cutting in too close. I always wonder, what’s the hurry that you must drive like this?
More snow to add to the piles. I took this shot from our driveway.
All of that aside, the promised snow arrived and we awoke to about eight inches on the ground Sunday morning. I was tempted to roll over, pull the covers tighter and snuggle in for more sleep when the alarm sounded at 6:45 a.m. But I didn’t.
A city of Faribault snowplow clears the street in front of my home.
I wondered if we would get out the driveway to make it to the 8 a.m. church service. But the arterial street past our house was already plowed so Randy needed only to gun it out our drive and then plow through the unplowed side street a short distance and we were on our way.
The beautiful snowy wooded hillside in our backyard.
Church was so empty that we all clumped together in front pews rather than sit in our regular spots. That is so un-Lutheran.
Randy starts down the driveway with the snowblower.
As any Minnesotan knows, the worst thing is to have the driveway all cleared and then the snowplow plows the end shut with a ridge of snow.
Making progress on clearing the driveway of snow.
Post worship service found Randy and me back home tackling snow removal—ours and that of a neighbor in her eighties. Randy maneuvers our Noah’s ark vintage snowblower while I shovel.
Our assorted shovels stacked in the garage.
Today I used all three shovels—the scoop shovel, plastic shovel and metal shovel. All serve a different purpose. Best for throwing. Best for pushing. Best for scraping. I’ve shoveled snow for enough decades to understand the importance of assorted tools.
Our driveway, clear of snow. Yeah!
Now I’m inside, feeling the ache of shoveling in my back, even if the snow was feather-light. But, hey, the sun is shining again and the snow has moved east into Wisconsin.
I stood in my driveway to show you the height of the snow piled at the end of the drive. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2019.
IT’S AKIN TO PLAYING CHICKEN.
That’s the most accurate comparison I can make as we deal with massive snow piles at the ends of driveways and at intersections here in Faribault and throughout Minnesota.
Back out of a snow-banked driveway and you risk hitting a vehicle you may not have seen because of the snow. But even worse, peeking around snow piles at intersections for oncoming traffic.
A view of Willow Street, a main arterial street running past my Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2019.
I live on a corner lot along a heavily-traveled street in Faribault. I am thankful our driveway is on the side street. Most driveways along this arterial route are not. My side street is busy also, serving as a direct route for parents, students and others to get to the Catholic school just blocks away.
I’m surprised I haven’t witnessed a crash at this intersection. I’ve heard vehicles honk warnings. It’s just a matter of time before a collision occurs. That could be serious given the rate at which many vehicles travel. I often wonder at those drivers who exercise no caution when circumstances call for caution.
Another snow obscured intersection in Faribault.
So what’s the solution? I’d love to see city crews clear the vision-blocking snow piles at the T-intersection by my house. Public safety is at risk. But I also realize crews are overworked and taxed by continual snow removal as storm after storm after winter storm brings record snow to our area. They have done a great job with snow removal during and right after snowfalls.
I’ve observed additional snow clean-up during lulls between snow events. Just last week several blocks around the Catholic school were widened and snow hauled away. I’m OK with that. Those streets needed widening to accommodate on-street parking and room for emergency vehicles.
But my street, a main route through town, could use widening also and removal of vision-blocking snow piles built by city snow removal equipment. Thousands of vehicles, including emergency vehicles, drive this route daily.
For now, drivers continue to nose into the intersection by my house and hope they don’t miss seeing oncoming vehicles.
TELL ME: Are you dealing with vision-blocking snow piles in your community? Have you witnessed or experienced a collision/near-collision because of snow pile issues? What do you suggest as a solution? (Other than fleeing to a warm weather state.)
My neighbor across the street moved and put his house on the market several months ago, but has yet to sell it. Now he’s clearing snow from two properties. If you’re looking for a house to buy in Faribault and want to be my neighbor…
THE SNOW KEEPS PILING up here in Minnesota in storm after storm after storm. And when snow isn’t falling, brutal cold settles in. This weather is taking its toll, physically and mentally.
The snow piles continue to grow in Faribault, here at a gas station along Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street.
We long for warmth and sunshine and a day without snow removal. As snow mountains obscure vision at the ends of driveways, sidewalks and street corners, clearing the snow becomes more taxing.
Special snow removal equipment works on the Cedar Avenue bridge over the Minnesota River on Wednesday afternoon.
This snow-filled truck and snow blowing tractor creep along Interstate 35 in Burnsville Wednesday afternoon.
During lulls between storms, snow removal crews work to widen roadways, clear snow from bridges and shoulders.
Ice dams and icicles on our house.
And then there are those ice dams forming along rooflines. I’ve never seen anything like it, the length of some icicles extending to the ground. Randy has yet to tackle the task of shoveling snow from our house and garage roofs. He can barely keep up with clearing snow from our place and that of a neighbor after a long day of work.
Passersby stopped to help push my elderly neighbor’s car up her snowy driveway during a recent storm. Randy warned her of the ice underneath, but…
A recent commute home from Northfield took him nearly an hour rather than the usual 22 minutes due to treacherous roads in a snowstorm. As an automotive machinist, he doesn’t have the option of working from home. If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.
Schools across the state closed an unprecedented number of times in past weeks.
On a day when highways were clear, Randy and I came upon a five-vehicle crash on Interstate 35 in Burnsville. Vehicles in ditches and endless crashes have marked this winter.
Any plans are tentative, based on weather and road conditions. Travel during bad winter weather and you risk going in the ditch, getting in an accident, becoming stuck in metro gridlock or stranded in a rural area. No, thanks. I’ll stay home and read a book.
Snow blows from the top of a semi tractor trailer Wednesday afternoon along Interstate 35 north of Faribault.
All of these challenges make winter sometimes difficult to navigate. But then I read something that causes me to pull my head out of the snowbank and smile. Like the story in the Faribault Daily News about local high school teacher Dave Wieber whose physics students video recorded kindergartners sledding. With the video data collected, they determine how fast the average student slides down the hill. How fun is that? I love when teachers get creative, make learning fun and exciting.
The scene exiting Interstate 35 into Faribault onto Minnesota State Highway 21 from the north.
And I love when a community celebrates winter with an event like last weekend’s Faribault Flannel Formal. Although I didn’t attend, I’ve seen enough photos to know this is exactly the type of event Minnesotans need in February. Flannel attire, music, drinks, contests, conversation. And hotdish.
A neighborhood near my home, along Fourth Avenue.
When I think about it, fun and creativity help many of us manage winter. New York state songwriter Linda Bonney Olin, in her song Praise God From Whom All Blizzards Flow, is a great example. She uses humor to write her “doxology for those blessed with wintry weather and a sense of humor.” It’s well worth your read. Click here and be thankful for shovels, gloves and plows. And the ability to still smile in this longest of winters.