The house creaks at night. Vehicles groan stubbornly, if at all. Pets return to the door at twice the pace at which they eagerly exited moments before. Death is in the forecast.
Welcome to another cold morning in North Dakota.
Minoters knew it was going to be a cold one Thursday morning. Forecasts called for temperatures dipping well below the minus 20 mark. Wind chills were expected to reach the minus 50 range, dangerously cold enough to cause the National Weather Service to issue a Wind Chill Warning to "avoid prolonged exposure to temperatures this cold that will lead to frostbite, hypothermia and even death."
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • Dennis Lahti, Minot, conducted his regular mail delivery in Minot despite Thursday’s frigid temperatures. Lahti said those who remained indoors were, “smarter than we are.”
Kim Fundingsland/MDN • Some vehicles refuse to start when temperature get too cold. “Speedy” Quiroz, Texas, left, and Luis Najela, Mexico, had to cope with an uncooperative diesel pickup Thursday morning.
Long-time North Dakota residents have learned to respect dangerously cold weather. They dress warm, keep their vehicles plugged in at night or inside garages and avoid any unnecessary exposure to the elements. Minot Public Schools keeps grade school children inside at recess time when the temperature reaches five degrees below zero. Minot's 9 a.m. temperature Thursday was minus 20. Minot Air Force Base recorded minus 22 and Williston minus 21 at the same hour.
"When you go outside without proper gear on, it doesn't take much for frostbite or hypothermia," said Ken Simosko, NWS meteorologist, Bismarck. "It's serious. It is as dangerous as it can get so far this year. Frostbite can set in within 10 minutes. Sometimes you are not even aware of it."
Danika Held of Taxi-9000 in Minot said the number of calls being received Thursday morning increased dramatically from a few days earlier. The difference was the bone-chilling drop in temperature and its negative effect on vehicles.
"The phone has been ringing non-stop. For every call I answer I get two more backed up," said Held. "People's cars aren't starting."
A couple of men accustomed to a much warmer climate were tussling with a stubborn diesel pickup Thursday morning in east Minot. A battery had run down after the vehicle had repeatedly refused to start. The two men had hooked up a battery charger and were waiting for better results.
"It's different from Texas," remarked "Speedy" Quiroz. Quiroz is working in the oil fields west of Minot and doing his best to adjust to the extreme cold. "It's something different. It's cold. It hurts. Real, real cold."
Quiroz was lending assistance to Luis Najela, of Mexico, whose pickup was refusing to start due to the frigid temperatures. Najela made light of the moment, regarding what most would consider a frozen ordeal as an opportunity.
"I love it! Really, I love it!" exclaimed Najela while removing cables and clamps from his truck's rejuvinated battery. "It's miserable but I love it! It took about three hours to get it started but I got it going. Now we go to work."
Other than a few vehicle hoods in the air, there wasn't much evidence of people spending time outside in Minot Thursday morning. A few, such as full-service station attendants, sanitation workers and postal carriers had no choice but to do their work in spite of the intense cold.
"I just kind of dress in layers and keep moving," said Dennis Lahti, U.S. postal carrier. "The only trouble I have is trying to keep the fingers warm to get the mail to everybody. The wind is what really gets us. It seems to go right through everything to the bone."
According to the NWS, temperatures in the Minot region were to dip to minus 20 or below again Thursday night, making for the coldest days of the year. However, said Simosko, there is some relief in the forecast.
"There will be some improvement Friday into Saturday. We have some clouds coming in and a chance of light snow. Clouds will help out quite a bit," said Simosko. "Saturday morning should see wind chills of minus 10 to minus 15. By Saturday afternoon Minot should get above zero for wind chill."
Minot's forecast for Saturday is for temperatures to reach into the mid-20s but there is also a chance for wind gusting up to 30 miles per hour. The wind is expected to subside by Sunday as the daytime temperature approaches 30 degrees.
Looking further ahead, the Bismarck NWS recently issued Climate Outlook Highlites for the period of February through April. In summary, says NWS, "below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation are favored for most of North Dakota through April 2013."