Memories of North Dakota winters

FargoSnow and cold weather always remind me of this scene from the 1996 movie Fargo.

Actually, it really reminds me of the last 14 seconds of this clip. If you go to 1:48, the dialogue — all 18 words — sums  up the two complete winters I lived in North Dakota and the four more I lived in Minnesota.

Mr. Mohra: Looks like she’s gonna turn cold tomorrow.

Officer Olson: Oh, yeah. Gotta front coming in.

Mr. Mohra: Yeah. You got that right.

Minnesota natives Joel and Ethan Coen wrote, directed and produced Fargo while I lived in North Dakota. In spite of its name, however, it is very much a Minnesota movie.

I can’t even say how many times I participated in — or at least overheard — conversations about the weather that were exactly like the one conducted by Officer Olson and Mr. Mohra. They are characters with whom I easily could have eaten breakfast at Shorty’s or shared a Michelob  Golden Draft Light at Charlie’s — two places where I spent some time during the years I lived in Winona, Minnesota.

For that matter, Mohra easily could have been my landlord in Bismarck, North Dakota.

The experience of living in both states helps keep in perspective just how bad — or not — that Iowa winters really are. There were winter months in Minnesota in which I shoveled snow every day. I can remember one January in North Dakota when the high temperature for the entire month never reached positive digits. In both places, winter starts sooner and lasts longer.

That makes the little bit of drifting snow we received Monday night here on the West Bank of the Mississippi River seem not so bad. The same goes for the temperatures that hovered in the positive single digits Tuesday. I took a walk outside on  my lunch hour Tuesday that wouldn’t have impressed a single North Dakotan.

Few of the North Dakotans I knew were impressed by the coldest winter event I’ve ever experienced. I remember covering a news conference in February one year  at the International Peace Garden. The temperature that day was something like 43 below and the wind chill was 80-something below. Before sending me off, all my editor said was: Be sure to take a pencil to take notes because the ink in your pen will freeze.

Native North Dakotans are like that.

The trick that went viral this winter on YouTube? TV weather forecasters in Bismarck and Fargo were doing that years before anyone had ever heard of viral videos. Or the Internet, for that matter.

As I prepare to publish these ramblings, it is 12 degrees in Muscatine and 9 in Winona. It’s a balmy 20 in Bismarck, which would feel like a spring morning this time of year.

Maybe I should go back to Bismarck today. If I could, I’d join the fellows at the White House Cafeteria for a cup of coffee and a caramel roll. I might not see Mr. Mohra or Officer Olson there. But I wouldn’t be surprised to overhear their conversation about the weather.

North Dakotans are like that, too.

2 thoughts on “Memories of North Dakota winters

  • Memories of chopping ice from a stock tank and feeding cattle at 20 below in western Iowa. Not North Dakota cold but cold enough to be vivid in my mind 60 years later. Larry

    • Thanks for the comment, Larry. I’ve not forgotten what it was like to thaw out frozen waterers in feedlots and hog confinment buildings. Or finding one tractor that would start and using it to jump start everything else. Still, I think my memories of those things would be even worse if I had grown up in North Dakota.

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