Minn-Arctica: Extreme cold across state on MLK holiday

Subzero temperatures
Marielena Cendej-Flores, right, pulls up her scarf to cover her face from the subzero temperatures while marching in the annual Martin Luther King Day rally in Duluth, Minn., on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.
AP Photo/The Duluth News-Tribune, Bob King

Subzero temperatures across the state made for a bitterly cold Martin Luther King Day.

In what may have been the shortest memorial march on record, participants in St. Paul's Martin Luther King celebration on Monday morning walked just two blocks from a park to Central High School.

Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington said that normally the march would have been several blocks longer, but the building where the event usually starts was unavailable this year, so the route was abbreviated. Harrington said that given the arctic temperatures and gusting winds, participants were appreciative.

"We didn't have as much time for as many songs as I would have liked to have heard sung," he said, "but I think there was a certain sense of relief as we all made the turn back into Central High School."

Marcus Smith and his friends showed up for the march to represent the Brother to Brother chapter at Century College. As soon as the march was over, they were ready to find some hot food.

"We're Minnesotans, we're kind of used to it," Smith said, "but at the same time - you see us, we're in black sweaters and tennis shoes, not really dressed for the weather, but we managed. Luckily it was only 15 minutes."

Meanwhile, at Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center, the homeless were being encouraged to stay indoors all day. Program manager Gerry Lauer said the center usually shuts down for a couple of hours for cleaning but remained open all day for the safety and well-being of its clients.

Ice on car windows
Ice forms on a car window in downtown Duluth, Minn., on Wednesday morning.
MPR Photo/Derek Montgomery

"When you get five or six days like what it's going to be for us right now, where it's going to be this way - people get a little cabin feverish," Lauer said. "There's a lot of people inside rubbing shoulders, so we all have to be on our best behavior and on our toes to make sure we're keeping everything going well."

Between 350 and 400 people use the Dorothy Day Center's services during the day, and 200 to 250 sleep there at night.

The weather was taking a toll on cars, too. Matt Hail, the public relations manager for AAA Minneapolis, said that as of 1 p.m. his office had responded to 520 road service calls, twice the average volume for a typical winter Monday.

"The number of calls are probably lower than what we could have inspected if it were not a holiday," he said. "So we would just encourage people to not travel if you don't have to, make sure your car is operating efficiently and make sure you have emergency plans in place if you do become stranded."

Hail said the majority of calls were for help with dead batteries and flat tires.

While the Twin Cities had a low of minus 10 on Monday morning -- its lowest temperature in two years - things were far chillier up north in Grand Marais. Kate Watson woke up to a wind chill of close to 50 below. She said her dog missed his walk, but the car started just fine.

Watson works at North House Folk School on the shore of Lake Superior. While the school finished a class on making snowshoes on Sunday, there were no classes on Monday. But that did not stop a number of people from dropping by the gift shop.

"People are out and about in spite of the weather," Watson said. "We're seeing a lot of mukluks and bundled-up people with scarves and their hoods up. You have to prepare for it, that's for sure."

The cold weather was expected to bottom out on Tuesday morning, and meteorologists predicted subzero temperatures for the area into Thursday.

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