What does the rest of winter have in store? Hopefully not heavy snowfall as shown in this 2009 photograph. Minot and area residents might be familiar with tough winters, but few days can compare to the cold the region experienced in late 1983.
As bone chilling as a stretch of below zero temperatures were earlier this month, the numbing cold fell far short of measuring up to the Fahrenheit misery that plagued Minot and much of North Dakota 30 years ago.
In an unfortunate 11-day period from Dec. 15 through Dec. 25, 1983, Minot citizens endured an average overnight low of 29 degrees below zero. Four all-time record lows were set minus 31 on Dec. 19, minus 30 Dec. 22, minus 36 Dec. 23 and minus 28 on Christmas Eve.
Those are the official lows published by the National Weather Service in Bismarck. However, the NWS also has records showing it was even colder minus 33 on Dec. 19, and minus 39 Dec. 23 and 24, 1983. According to the NWS, those temperatures were reported from a location listed in their records only as "north of Minot." The NWS official temperature readings are taken at the Minot International Airport.
Still, no matter which sub-zero readings are most accurate, the 11-day stretch in Dec. 1983 remains one of the coldest periods in state history. On three of those days, Dec. 22 through 24, the daytime high did not reach above minus 20.
A headline in the Dec. 19, 1983 edition of The Minot Daily News read: "Frigid Front Stalls Over The Nation's Heartland." Indeed, the thermometer plunged to minus 40 that night in Williston. An astounding 30 cities engulfed by the cold front set record low temperatures. Of course, North Dakota bore the brunt of the wicked front. Fives times in 11 days the overnight low surpassed minus 30.
The forecast for the state at the time included words like "bitter" and "dangerous" and warned of wind chills of 50 to 80 below zero. An oft repeated saying by native North Dakotans is "30 below keeps the riffraff out," but 30 below proved to be equally tough on sturdy residents who thought they had experienced it all before when it came to cold weather. The 11 astonishingly cold days in Dec. 1983 pushed people to the limit.
Some Minot gasoline and service stations received up to 100 phone calls per day to start stalled automobiles. The Minot Fire Department and Montana-Dakota Utilities were deluged with calls from residents whose furnace motors had burned out, unable to keep up with the constant demand for heat. The severe cold punished those whose daily tasks required them to be outside such as mail carriers, firemen and law enforcement.
When the record cold spell finally broke on Dec. 26, 1983 the daytime temperature soared to 11 degrees above zero. While 11 degrees is generally considered downright cold, it was welcome relief; a full 50 degrees warmer than what Minot residents experienced just a few days earlier and remarkably more comfortable than daytime highs of minus 20 and below.
There have been other remarkable periods of cold weather in North Dakota history, but the cold front in late Dec. 1983 remains among the most memorable for its stubbornness to depart and continual assault on the temperature record book.
The Climate Prediction Center recently updated their three-month outlook for North Dakota, but not for the better. According to the CPC the Minot region, and the state, can expect below-normal temperatures for the next 90 days and to think winter officially began Dec. 21.
Soon though the amount of darkness associated with cold temperatures will begin to change. On Saturday Minot actually gains one minute of daylight, beginning a slow trend that will continue until spring gives way to summer. As North Dakotans know, take it one degree and one minute at a time and keep your fingers crossed in the hope that the frigid 11 days in Dec. 1983 will never be surpassed.