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People Cope With More Record Cold

February 4, 1996

Temperatures more than 50 degrees below zero are starting to take a toll on the little northeastern Minnesota town of Embarrass.

``Yesterday I couldn’t STAND it any longer. We had to go to town and buy some groceries. But that’s the first time I’d been out of the house for at least four to five days,″ said Adrienne Fowler.

Sunday’s low in Embarrass was 56 below zero, the fourth day out of the past five with lows more than 50 below. A couple of days earlier, nearby Tower dipped to 60 below. That’s real temperatures, not the wind chill.

Everyday thermometers can’t cope.

``We have a lot of people in the community who are having to buy new thermometers,″ said Mrs. Fowler, whose husband, Roland, is a volunteer observer for the National Weather Service.

She’s been keeping warm indoors with her sewing. A few in town have been braving the cold to dig paths to their backyard saunas, some of which have been in use since they were built by hardy Finnish settlers in the early 1900s, she said.

The past week of snow, ice and record cold had been blamed for 55 deaths across the Lower 48 states. Most occurred in traffic accidents on icy roads, but some involved Alzheimer’s patients wandering off and dying in the cold.

Temperatures fell to record lows Sunday from the Rockies, where it was -14 at Pueblo, Colo., to the East Coast, where Georgetown, Del., bottomed out at 6 above.

It was the coldest weekend of the season in Texas, with lows of -3 at the Panhandle city of Amarillo and 6 above in Abilene. In Louisiana, Baton Rouge had a record low of 15.

And how cold was it in a little town in Michigan?

``Hell’s frozen over,″ said Jim Ley, co-owner of the Devil’s Den convenience store and bait shop in Hell, about an hour west of Detroit. Sunday’s low there was -11.

JoAnne Wand wasn’t particularly thrilled that her town of Elizabeth, Ill., population 700, had the distinction of sharing the state’s coldest temperature Sunday at 33 below.

``I don’t think there is any pride here over that. Of all the records we had to go for, we went for the cold one,″ she said.

Wand said she supposes the cold would be the talk of the town _ if anyone was out and about talking. ``Unless people absolutely have to come outside, they don’t. You don’t see people just roaming the streets talking about how cold it is.″

``I hate it. I wish it were summer,″ said Louis Carvalho, trying to get warm after a morning of pumping gas at a station in Newark, N.J.

Organizers of the Winter Festival at St. Paul, Minn., have had to make some allowances for the cold. High school bands were dropped from Saturday’s parade to make sure no one’s lips froze to their brass instruments.

But all 56 golfers who registered for the Carnival’s annual Golf in the Snow Tournament showed up Sunday, when the temperature warmed into the single digits above zero.

``The scores are often times better than in the summer because you don’t have to putt. The greens are covered with snow,″ said volunteer organizer Jim Sweitzer. Golfers only had to get the balls within six feet of the holes.

``It makes you think of summer,″ said Gene Fish, waiting to tee off.

And dog sled racers welcome the cold.

``About minus 20 is perfect,″ said Billy Snodgrass, competing in a race Sunday at Jackson, Wyo. The reading at the 9 a.m. starting time was -9.

``These dogs have these fur coats on and they can’t take them off _ and they’re running a marathon.″

Among the dead was a 70-year-old Alzheimer’s patient who drove away from a Tulsa, Okla., nursing home, crashed into a tree and died of exposure while wandering in a park Friday.

One man died of exposure Saturday in Tennessee. ``We just hope we don’t get any more and that we don’t find anymore this morning after the bitter cold we had last night,″ said Cecil Whaley, a spokesman for the state’s emergency agency.

In Colorado, rescuers searched for a snowmobiler missing since an avalanche Saturday west of Buena Vista.

Ice-downed power lines left thousands without light and heat in parts of the Southeast, with some 310,000 customers with no power in North Carolina and about 25,000 blacked out in eastern Tennessee.

Wisconsin utilities asked people to conserve natural gas, both because of record usage and ice clogging equipment.

And how do some people cope?

``Being wrapped up in a recliner with an afghan around you reading and dozing off _ that’s sometimes a good day, too,″ said Kathryn Kyle in Elkins, W.Va., with a record low of 18 below zero.

``Nothing shuts us down,″ said Linda Frandsen in Woodruff, Utah, population 135, where Sunday’s low was 31 below. ``We’re just used to the elements. Everybody helps everybody.″

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