Brutally cold temperatures appears to be on the way out of western North Dakota after wind chills in Dickinson dropped to as much as 51-below zero on Sunday and lingered into Monday afternoon with temperatures as low as 18 below in the morning.
Despite the cold temperatures and wind chills that grabbed national attention, most workers soldiered on outside as usual throughout the area with the exception of area schools cautiously canceling Monday classes based almost entirely on potential safety hazards posed to children because of the cold.
“It sounds like a lot of people did take the right precautions — layered up, covered exposed skin,” said Tony Merriman, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Bismarck. “We have ways to combat the wind chill. It’s just not fun.”
Randy Paulson of Two Brothers Moving Co. spent the morning with co-workers Andrew Byrne and Clay Coslor helping a resident move into the Hawks Point senior living community in Dickinson.
Paulson, who chose not to wear gloves, said dressing in layers was his key to staying warm.
“I got layers,” he said with a smile. “Long johns, everything. It’s pretty cold out there.”
The 18-year-old is originally from Louisiana. He moved to the area in 2010 but said this winter is the coldest he has ever experienced.
After working for about two hours and going in and out between temperature-controlled interiors and his company’s moving truck, Paulson said the only thing that bothered him was his own sweat.
“Whenever you start sweating, it kind of hurts,” he said. “It just hurts. It’s hot and then cold and it just stings mainly.”
As for using his bare hands in the frostbite-inducting temperatures while handling mirrors, lamps and other hard, cold household items?
“They’re numb,” he said, “but once you start working, you get the blood flowing and it feels better.”
At Walmart, where outside cars were kept running and inside car cables and jump starters were running out, Nathan Hanel pushed carts.
On a break, he said he keeps warm with layers and hot cocoa in the break room.
Still, the weather’s getting to be too much for him. He’s trying to switch to a more tropical department.
“I’m about to switch to produce because I’m getting sick of the conditions,” he said.
It doesn’t help, he said, that the cart-pushing machine broke down four months ago and wasn’t replaced.
For many, it was just another cold day.
Mailman Dan Bahley has been delivering mail in Dickinson for 25 years.
As he worked at one postbox outside Ponderosa Liquor, he shrugged off the cold.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” he said. “Every few years we get a stretch like this.”
Like others working outside Monday, for Bahley, the key is layers.
U.S. Postal Service spokesman Richard Watkins said the Service reminds its employees that their safety is paramount to delivering mail.
Still, he said, “I’ve gotta give credit to our employees. they really do understand the need for the delivery of that mail, those packages.”
Oilfield worker Richard Trowbridge wasn’t too bothered either, he said as he filled up a hot coffee at Tiger Discount on Monday afternoon.
It gets colder in Alaska, where he’s from.
Still, he said during his day shifts doing powerwashing at oilfield sites, he takes a break every 20 or 30 minutes to sit in his truck out of the cold.
“If you’re out for too long you get that in your lungs, you can’t stop coughing,” he said.
Asked how they stay warm while delivering pizzas, Domino’s Pizza deliverymen answered in unison: “We don’t.”
Miles O’Donnell, who’s also a student at Dickinson State University, said he goes back in the store to warm up between deliveries.
Sometimes, he can use the cold to his advantage — sometimes he’ll make a point of telling a customer how cold it is, and he’ll get a bigger tip.
“Sometimes I get a couple more bucks.”
Schools stay cautious
By Sunday evening, all but one southwest North Dakota school had canceled Monday’s classes.
“Normally we would run school but this is just an extreme cold,” said Doug Sullivan, superintendent of Dickinson Public Schools.
Beach was the only area school in session, though its two rural bus routes did not run.
Dickinson Public Schools, Dickinson Catholic Schools and Hope Christian Academy, as well as schools in Belfield, Beulah, Billings County, Bowman County, Glen Ullin, Halliday, Hebron, Hettinger, Killdeer, Mott-Regent, New England, Scranton, South Heart, Richardton-Taylor and Watford City called off classes and after-school activities.
Dickinson’s schools said early Sunday they planned to be in session Monday but rural bus routes would not run.
A few hours later, they changed their minds and called off school completely.
“We felt it would be better and safer for the students to stay home today,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said Dickinson Public Schools plan to be in session Tuesday.
Temperatures are expected to improve as the week progresses as the arctic air leaves the Midwest. Highs are expected to be in in the mid-30s on Saturday, “which is going to be toasty warm by then,” Merriman said.
“We’re looking at above-normal temperatures, easily, by the weekend and into the first part of next week.”
Katherine Lymn contributed to this story.