Most miserable winter ever? Depends on who you ask

“Winter misery is based on a lot of things,” said WDAY Meteorologist John Wheeler. “It’s a difficult thing to gauge.”

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It seems like a cold wind has been blowing for most of January in Detroit Lakes, as the area has dealt with cold, snowy weather. The flags at the Pavilion were flying fast on Thursday, as work continued on the ice palace on the city beach.
Michael Achterling/Detroit Lakes Tribune

Think this has been the most miserable winter ever? That’s a hard thing to nail down.

“Winter misery is based on a lot of things,” said WDAY Meteorologist John Wheeler. “It’s a difficult thing to gauge.”

For sure there’s been no shortage of cold weather, blowing snow and difficult travel conditions for the last month or so, he said.

But, the first part of winter wasn’t so bad. “Between Thanksgiving and Christmas it was very mild, with little snow — so it evens out,” he said.

“We are on the heels of a tough month, though” Wheeler added, “and it doesn’t look good for February.”


That long range outlook is, of course, “part forecast and part Magic 8-ball,” he said, “but it’s likely the weather will be colder than average, at least for several weeks.”

Winter misery will depend on a number of things, including whether “this incessant wind will settle down,” Wheeler added.

Ice harvest workers, mostly volunteers, push excess ice out of the way of the ice blocks on Jan. 20 during the 2022 Ice Harvest on Little Detroit Lake in Detroit Lakes.
(Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Still, as befits a meteorologist, Wheeler takes a philosophical view. “Hard winters are a part of upper Midwest life,” he said. “Last winter was very mild — it affects our view of what a harsh winter is. If we had just had three harsh winters in a row, this would feel normal, and we’d just be wondering when spring was coming.”

The amount of snowfall this winter has not been unusual, although the drifts have been higher than last year, he said.

A frigid February would at least be good news for Polar Fest, Wheeler added, since organizers wouldn’t have to worry about unseasonable weather melting the big ice palace, which is now being built on the city beach near the Pavilion.

Polar Fest runs Feb. 11 through Feb. 27 this year, an extra long celebration in honor of the Detroit Lakes sesquicentennial in 2021.

Different people have different ways of coping with the cold.

Larry Hanson, who lives in the Big Toad Lake area, embraces the sub zero temperatures.


“I’m one of those people who enjoy winter,” he said during a shopping trip to Central Market in Detroit Lakes. “I don’t get comfortable until it’s below zero.” He loves to be out trapping or snowshoeing, no matter what the weather.

“I have two new knees, so I can’t snowshoe as fast or as long as I like to, but I’m getting it done,” he said. “When it’s 90 degrees out and I have to get the lawn mowed and the gardening done before I can go fishing, that’s when it’s hard for me.”

Robin Groom of Detroit Lakes takes the opposite approach. “I have a trip booked for Orlando, Florida, next month,” she said with a smile. “You have to have something to look forward to — you have to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

From a cold weather standpoint, one of the nicest things you can do for your car is make sure the timing belt is in good shape, because that belt takes on extra stress in freezing cold weather, and it can cause extra damage to the engine if it breaks, said Pete Jordan, owner of Pit Stop Auto Center in Detroit Lakes.

Make sure your car’s antifreeze is good to 40-below, the coils are good, fluids are full and the battery is good, and it’s best to make a habit of doing it in the autumn before winter sets in, he said.

If you wait, “it gets to be more expensive,” he said. “When things get cold, they break.”

People venture out even on the coldest days, said Zack Schaffer, sales associate at Mac’s Hardware in Detroit Lakes. “It doesn’t seem like business slows down any when it’s real cold,” he added.

“We sell a lot of snow shovels and propane,” said Taylor Shields, team leader at Mac’s. “And snow ropes and tow chains, for pulling people out of the ditch. We’ve been going through them like crazy,” he added.


Also hand warmers, toe warmers, diesel treatment and shear pins for snowblowers. “We go through a lot of shear pins,” he said.

The forecast for the next week from the National Weather Service shows no end to that “incessant wind” that Wheeler was talking about, although some days will be calmer than others.

Overall, it looks to be warmer Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with daytime highs in the teens and twenties, then it's back to the cooler, with highs of 1 and 2 on Wednesday and Thursday.

Minnesota’s climate has actually been warming, but not so much that you’d notice.

“The thing about climate change and global warming is most people's perceptions are a little different than reality,” Wheeler said.

“You can’t look at one or two winters and think it is happening that way because of climate change.”

In northwestern Minnesota, the climate has warmed an average of about 2 degrees, he said. “That’s 1 degree daytime highs and 3 degrees warmer at night, on average.

“You and I can’t really sense 2 degrees Fahrenheit,” he added. “What really happens is cold snaps are maybe not so bad, and there are not quite as many cold winters as there used to be. We still get them like this one, and a few years ago we had one.”


“The change here has been subtle,” Wheeler said, compared to the “drastic changes” being seen in the Arctic Circle, including parts of Russia, Greenland, Alaska, and Canada, where glaciers and permafrost have been melting from the warming temperatures, Wheeler said.

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