As of 10:53 a.m. Friday, the Brainerd lakes area spent 123 hours at zero or below stretching back to Dec. 29.
During that time, using temperatures recorded at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, just one hour was above zero — but barely — at 3 degrees.
The past five days have averaged a temperature of 14.8 below. And Friday’s warm-up was largely wiped out by a frosty wind.
While it seems as though this cold spell has lasted nearly as long as winter, the current arctic stretch ranks 83rd coldest as far as five-day stretches in Brainerd go.
And it’s about to get worse. A wind chill warning is in effect until noon Tuesday.
Add in the next blast of brutally cold air through Thursday and this stretch of winter is expected to jump into a tie for 36th coldest nine-day stretch in recorded lakes area history. The nine-day stretch is expected to have an average temperature of 14.3 below.
Monday’s frigid forecast of 31 below is working to keep the average low.
Kevin Huyck, meteorologist, with the National Weather Service in Duluth, said the last time Brainerd was this cold was Jan. 21, 2011, and the previous time was Jan. 29, 2009.
“Brainerd sees temps that cool once every few years or so,” Huyck said.
The temperature would need to drop to 36 below in order to tie the record for Jan. 6 set in 1988. How much colder will it feel between 20 and 30 below? That is subjective to each individual. But to put it in perspective, the National Weather Service uses frostbite times.
If it is 15 below by air temperature or wind chill, it takes 30 minutes for exposed skin to freeze. Dropping the level to 35 below by air or wind chill and it takes 10 minutes for skin to freeze. When air or wind chill advance to 50 below, exposed skin can freeze in five minutes. Sunday, Jan. 5, may have a daytime high of 13 below to 18 below without even considering the wind chill. Add on northwest winds of 10 to 15 mph and wind chills are forecast to drop to 40 below to 50 below on Jan. 4 and into Sunday. By Sunday night the wind chills may reach 60 below.
By Monday, the air temperatures may struggle to reach daytime highs of 15 below to 20 below.
The extreme temperatures make it difficult for people and animals who spend any time outdoors. But it has created a silver lining for some.
“This is the busiest I’ve been since 2005 before the crash,” said John Nelson, owner of Brainerd Door Service. Nelson said the cold plays havoc with garage door openers. There have been broken springs and garage doors frozen to the ground.
“This is just causing all sorts of things,” Nelson said. “I’ve been putting in a lot of new doors.”
Nelson said he’s been working six days a week for the past nine weeks from daylight to dark and still has a backlog.
At Sound Connection and Lakes Audio, the remote car starters and seat warmers have been going in nearly nonstop. Both shops are booked out several weeks for installations.
“It’s been crazy,” said Lakes Audio owner Dan St. Hilaire, who noted he’s seeing a lot of first-time remote starter customers. Costs range from $268 to $588. St. Hilaire said heated seats, which are $200 per seat installed, have been a busy addition.
John Larson, at Sound Connection, said it’s been busier this year than any in the businesses 18 year history. The average for a remote starter is about $325.
“It has been absolutely hectic around here,” Larson said. Installation of heated seats doubled this year compared to last year. Larson said another feature that makes life easier is a heated windshield washer system, about $99.
“It just doesn’t feel like it’s ever going to end,” Larson said of winter. “Nobody can see summer in their sights this year.”
Jennifer Nangle, travel consultant at Bursch Travel in Baxter, is anticipating a busy Monday as people contemplate the weather and look for a warmer climate for a break. Nangle said they’ve had a lot of walk-in traffic and people looking to leave in the next few weeks, taking advantage of deals that have dropped by $200 to travel at the end of January. Sun and sand may look rather appealing at this point.
Even with the extreme weather, people appear to be taking the appropriate precautions for the most part.
Since Dec. 1, the Essentia Health – St. Joseph’s Medical Center Emergency Department team has cared for two patients for cold related injuries: one with frostbite and one with hypothermia and frostbite.
Dr. Ramsey Larson, emergency medicine physician with Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Brainerd, stated the cold is a real danger and anyone who needs to be outside should take precautions to cover all exposed skin. Injury can take place in as little as a few minutes, Larson reported.
Essentia Health reported anyone experiencing symptoms of “pain, numbness, or whiteness of skin should have immediate treatment which includes passively warming the affected areas and receiving medical care.
“Serious cases of injury due to cold can result in damage to tissue or loss of limbs. We also need to be vigilant to be aware of those in our community who are more vulnerable to injury from the cold including children and the elderly.”
Deb Cranny, executive director at Home Instead Senior Care, released a reminder noting those over the age of 65 account for nearly half of all hypothermia deaths.
“As the body ages, the ability to maintain a normal internal body temperature decreases, creating an insensitivity to moderately cold temperatures,” Home Instead reported. “Seniors may not realize they are putting themselves at risk until symptoms appear. Symptoms of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.”
Cranny noted a leading reason for hypothermia in the elderly comes from poorly heated homes. Recommendations to prevent hypothermia for seniors include keeping the thermostat at 65, having a carbon monoxide detector near sleeping areas, replacing furnace filters monthly, cutting down on drafts by filling old socks with sand for use in drafty windowsills and door jams, adding extra blankets and using a hot water bottle to warm beds, dressing in layers of loose fitting clothing, making sure heads are covered when going outside.
Looking at the lowest Brainerd temperatures in January going back 76 to 95 years, shows a number of days when the thermometer hit 30 below and kept dropping.
The coldest January day on record going back to 1899 was 48 below zero on Jan. 15, 1972. The top 10 coldest January days were all in the 40 below range with the most recent in 1996.
What makes this period seem different is the a long stretch of below zero temperatures. December in Brainerd was about 10 degrees colder than normal. January is off to a sub-zero average that is much colder than the normal average of 8.8 degrees. And that’s above zero.