As 2013 winds down, here's a look at some of the biggest stories from outstate Minnesota, as well as lesser-known favorites from our reporters and photographers.
1) Last winter's brightly beautiful cold snap Courtesy Bryan Hansel
The frigid start to our current winter harkens back to a similar stretch last January, when I collected the work of a few talented photographers from across the state.
"To get to the point where I set up my tripod, I had to wade across a gap (water was flowing through it like a stream), slip across ice and then balance on an uneven surface of glare ice. I waited for 20 minutes, tucked into my hood, while my glasses froze and my breath coated my collar with rime. Then the pink happened," photographer Bryan Hansel said of his picture from the North Shore, seen above.
2) Surf's up, on Gitche Gumee Derek Montgomery / For MPR News
Speaking of Lake Superior in the winter, our hardy Duluth reporter Dan Kraker spent some time with people who fully embrace living in an area with such extreme weather conditions.
"When it's five degrees and the wind is whipping off Lake Superior, coating the shore with ice, about the last thing most sane people would consider would be to hop in with a surfboard. But a crew of around 50 surfers brave the icy waters every fall and winter, to catch waves that on the best days they swear compare to the surf in California or Hawaii. Their enthusiasm almost convinced me to give it a try ... almost," Kraker said.
3) The flood that wasn't in Fargo-Moorhead Nathaniel Minor / MPR News
A snowy winter that just wouldn't leave had Fargo, Moorhead and other cities in the Red River Valley worried about a possible record flood. But it eventually crested 8 feet lower than the highest prediction.
The before-after gallery was my own creation. I built it to show people who haven't been to Fargo during a flood just what it looks like around town.
4) The family that brought gymnastics to Hendricks Bob Collins / MPR News
NewsCut blogger Bob Collins survived his first blizzard in rural Minnesota to report the story of how the Johnson family in Hendricks, Minn. built a gymnastics facility in a pole barn and what it did for the community.
"There are people who 'do' and people who 'don't.' We need more of the former and fewer of the latter. What I love about doing NewsCut road trips is finding we actually have more of the former than you might think," Collins said.
5) Lambing season in Minn.Ann Arbor Miller / For MPR News
Every spring brings lambing season to the state's 3,000 sheep farms. Reporter Dan Gunderson visited a farm near Pelican Rapids in west-central Minnesota.
"It's rewarding to meet interesting people who are passionate about what they do, and to take listeners/readers to a place they might not have an opportunity to experience," Gunderson said.
"All too often quieter stories about ritual and daily routine are lost or missed in the news cycle. It is stories like spring lambing that take our audience to a new place or remind them of their roots," photographer Ann Arbor Miller said.
6) Long winter, drought kill alfalfa crop Alex Kolyer / For MPR News
By time summer rolled around Minnesota and Wisconsin lost nearly 2 million acres of alfalfa, an important crop for dairy farmers.
"A rewarding part of my job reporting from southeastern Minnesota is taking listeners to the barns and fields where some of their food is produced. This story did just that and helped shed some light on the complexities of our food system," reporter Elizabeth Baier said.
7) Latino identity in Minnesota Courtesy Hernandez family
In June, MPR News' Molly Bloom collected the stories of more than 125 Latinos from across Minnesota and asked them to choose five words or phrases that describe their families.
"One of the highlights among many fascinating conversations was talking to the five Hernandez siblings. Now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, they have amazing stories to tell from their childhood spent moving across southern Minnesota as a migrant farming family," Bloom said.
8) Duluth, NE Minn. recover from devastating 2012 floodsDerek Montgomery / For MPR News
Up to 10 inches of rain fell over northeastern Minnesota in June 2012, causing more than $100 million in damage. Rivers and streams flooded their banks, severely damaging roads and bridges. About 1,500 hundred homes also suffered significant damage. A year later, most of that damage has been repaired.
"Taking the pictures was a challenge because you had to match the same lens, same focal length, same camera and be in just about the same exact position as a year earlier," photographer Derek Montgomery said.
9) Crumbling relics across Minn.Ann Arbor Miller / For MPR News
Over the summer, MPR News' Ground Level team took a detailed look at what communities across the state are doing with prominent old buildings that have outlived their original use.
"The topic is universal in the sense that many more towns are dealing with - or will be dealing with - the same issues. The assignment took me to 11 locations throughout the state inside less than a month. To have the opportunity to meet so many people and tour so many different buildings was invigorating to say the least," photographer Ann Arbor Miller said.
This Ground Level production explored the realities and aspirations of rural small towns by peeling back the curtain on the nostalgic mythos of rural America to reveal complex communities and the people that drive them forward.
"To match the diversity of our subject, we developed the widest engagement we could, crafting responsive web editions, e-book and radio versions. We faced the splendid issue of too much great work, the b-sides continually threatened to grow into their own full-fledged projects," said digital producer Will Lager.
11) Boise Paper Mill layoffs in International Falls Derek Montgomery / For MPR News
In far northern Minnesota, the largest employer in International Falls cut more than 250 jobs in a town of just 6,400. MPR News' Ground Level project and The Daily Circuit show teamed up for an in-depth report on how the town is moving forward.
"It's our favorite because we were able to really dig in and get to know this one place," reporter Jennifer Vogel and editor Dave Peters said. "It was fascinating to hear what people think should and shouldn't happen (or will and won't happen) to ensure the future of the border town. Plus, it's gorgeous up there, so I enjoyed being in that part of the state," reporter Tom Weber said.
We end our tour of outstate Minnesota on the same cold lake it began on. In December, MPR News' meteorologist Paul Huttner explained what a 'winter waterspout' is, and why you should feel lucky if you've seen one with your own eyes.
"Winter waterspouts occur when meteorological conditions are just right. You need a bitter arctic air mass passing over relatively warm lake water, and just enough light, low level wind shear to get the rapidly rising air currents spinning nicely," Huttner wrote.
More top news of 2013 lists:
• Top 12 stories from the Twin Cities in 2013
• Top 11 Minnesota health and environment stories in 2013
• Top 9 Minnesota arts stories in 2013
• Top 9 Minnesota political stories from 2013