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Roland Fowler, who has been a weather recorder in Embarrass for 25 years, checks out the temperature on the thermometer in his weather shelter in his yard in Embarrass, Minn., on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014. The low for the day was -37 F. DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE/Bob King

Recorder in Minnesota’s coldest town says record low could be broken

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Mike Creger | Forum News Service

EMBARRASS, Minn. — For 25 years, the first person to record this city’s temperatures as the nation’s cold spot, as it bills itself, has been Roland Fowler. He’s the official National Weather Service recorder here and has a feeling that this year, a new state record low could be set.

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Fowler had just looked at his numbers for December on Monday and said he’s never seen one that cold. And January is following suit, with lows dipping into the minus 40 range last week.

In Tower, which holds the state record — 60 below on Feb. 2, 1996 — things were bustling at 24 below during the noon hour. Monday was a reprieve compared to last week, with people popping into the bank, grocery store and cafés, saying: “Shoulda been here a few days ago. It was colder then.”

But it’s the continued cold that has Fowler thinking records.

“If things don’t change, it’s highly possible,” he said.

Fowler had a similar feeling back in November 1995, another unusually cold month. A little more than two months later, Tower’s record reading came in. The two communities have had a fierce rivalry since then. Fowler’s thermometer broke that year, and he’s been saying ever since that it was colder in Embarrass that day, likely 64 below.

“The thermometer won’t break this year,” he said. “It goes to 100 below.”

And he has three extras, just in case.

“When it gets that cold, things break,” he said of the incident in 1996.

This season, Fowler recorded 17 days in December that didn’t get above zero and five days of minus 40 or worse for a low.

“It’s been far lower than normal this year,” he said.

The window for breaking a cold record closes on Feb. 10, Fowler said. That’s when the sun gets too high in the sky, heating the air so it can’t cool down as far overnight.

Up the road, closer to Tower, the Gawboy family keeps the weather records.

“I think it’s going to warm up,” Becky Gawboy said.

Her prediction, based on a “feeling,” is the perfect yang to Fowler’s ying.

Gawboy said she knew something was up when she was picking cucumbers in her garden in October.

“It was a warm fall,” she said. “There’s always a balance. We got crushed in December. The crows knew. They didn’t stick around.”

But enough is enough, she said. Time to balance things out again. Indeed, by the end of the week, temperatures are expected to settle into the 20s and 30s.

Gawboy said the cold winter is good for “cleaning up the land,” meaning pests that she has seen the past few years could get frozen out and not return.

Trevor Ball of Embarrass was spinning the roulette wheel in the morning. He was in the parking lot at the former Four Corners Café at the junction of Minnesota Highway 135 and County Road 21 east of town. He parks his Pontiac there on weekends when he meets his girlfriend there.

“I’m not very optimistic,” Ball said as he brushed snow off the car.

He got in, heard a few groaning cranks and then — it started.

“Oh, my God. Holy man,” he screamed. “I cannot believe it.”

No such luck in Tower, where Charles Lightfeather was waiting for a friend to come jump his car outside of Rick’s Relics Thrift Shop. He lives above the store. It was on to Plan B when the friend didn’t show and it was simply too cold to wait too long.

The Gawboys have 13 children in their home. They all spend at least some time outside each day, no matter the weather, Becky said.

“There’s been a little more screen time than usual,” Becky said, responding and denying a request to use a computer. Even the hardiest of folks have had to make adjustments when it comes to this coldest of winters.

“This time of year is beautiful,” Becky said. “I love this weather. It’s peaceful. You know you’re alive. It’s a reminder. We can’t control this.”

Fowler shared similar views: “I don’t fear the cold,” he said. I respect it. You just have to prepare for it.”

The cold temperatures have made for an interesting winter, Fowler said.

“Oh, yes. It’s like 1996.”

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