By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The last time Minnesota temperatures were as cold as WCCO’s meteorologists expect them to get in the middle of this week, it was back in 1996.

To put that into perspective, some people who have been born since the last time it was as cold as it should get this week are old enough to drive, vote, and order a drink at a bar.

Inside a chain link fence on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus is recorded the ebb and flow of our weather.

“To reset it, you go like this,” Pete Boulay explains as he checks the temperature inside a louvered box.

And nothing reveals our state’s diverse weather fabric more than the rise and fall of mercury.

“We had minus 32 here, so it was the last time had minus 30s here in the Twin Cities,” Boulay said.

DNR climatologist Bouley is referring to the winter of 1996. That’s when between Jan. 30 and Feb. 4 a bitter blast of polar air put Minnesota in the crosshairs.

“Just outside of Tower it was minus 60, and that’s a state record low for Minnesota,” Boulay said.

Within hours the hearty pride of Minnesotans was put on display. “I Survived” T-shirts became hot sellers.

WCCO-TV Photographer Pete Neuswanger recalls heading up to the small town of Embarrass where the previous low temperature was held. A power glitch had apparently prevented the weather station from registering an accurate reading.

“People got very upset and they were blaming the TV cameras for keeping the temps a degree or two warmer, so that Tower would win,” Neuswanger said.

The cold was so dangerous that week it convinced Gov. Arne Carlson to close all schools across the state.

“I particularly remember children without any mittens or gloves,” Carlson said.

The Governor made those observations of unprepared children while driving to the state capitol. Now spending his winters in Florida, Carlson calls the decision to cancel schools “simple common sense.”

“I’d rather see children go an extra day in June than freezing on the streets in January,” Carlson said.

That Feb. 2 record-setting cold was also the day of intense sadness for the family of slain St. Joseph police officer, Brian Klinefelter.

After his services inside the College of St. Benedict’s auditorium, funeral goers stepped out into the bitter cold for his interment.

For fellow officers and Brian’s family, the most brutally cold day would never warm.

WCCO meteorologist Matt Brickman said that Monday’s temperatures are expected to climb near 10 degrees in the Twin Cities, but overnight temperatures will crash, as a front of arctic air moves over Minnesota, setting up a week of dangerous cold, with wind chills as frigid as 60 below in parts of northern Minnesota.

Brickman said that temperatures won’t climb above zero for days, and Wednesday looks to bring the most significantly cold temperatures, with lows around 27 below, which haven’t been recorded in the metro in more than two decades.

Temperatures actually got that low in two separate instances back in 1996. In December that year, a major cold snap followed a pre-Christmas snow storm. The storm dropped 6 inches, and then temperatures were below zero both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Brickman said that the earlier, and more extreme cold snap happened from January into February that year, lasing for nearly a full week with overnight lows going below negative 20 degrees.

To take a quick trip in the time machine, in 1996 …

  • The top movies included Independence Day, Twister, Mission: Impossible, Jerry McGuire, and The Nutty Professor
  • Stamps cost 32 cents
  • The average gallon of gas cost $1.23
  • The hit musical Rent opened off-Broadway on Jan. 26
  • Alanis Morissette won the Grammy for album of the year, for Jagged Little Pill
  • Bill Clinton was president
  • Spice Girls charted their first U.S. Number 1 hit, “Wannabe”
  • Dolly the sheep became the first mammal cloned

As for this week, wind chills Wednesday morning will be around 50 below to the metro, and parts of greater Minnesota could see wind chill factors as cold as 60 below. In such cold, frostbite can set in on exposed skin in less than 5 minutes. Expect some schools to close this week due to the dangerous cold.

The extreme cold is expected to last until Thursday. However, the weekend looks to bring a shot of warmth, with temperatures climbing well above freezing on Saturday. The near 60-degree shift in temperatures will bring a chance to clear roads and sidewalks of ice that accumulates during this week of arctic cold.

Bill Hudson