MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesotans piled on coats and hats -- again -- as nostril-stinging conditions and strong winds combined Thursday to drop wind chills to 60 below zero on the first official day of winter.
But conditions that caused numerous school districts to cancel classes around the state didn't faze some of the hardier animals at the Minnesota Zoo.
Bison and Siberian tigers, for instance, are used to it, said zoologist Brad Geiszler, who is in charge of the zoo's Northern Trail portion.
"This type of situation is probably harder on the keepers ... than on the animals," he said.
"They're all northern hemisphere species of animals, so they sort of feel right at home here in Minnesota with the cold winter. They're outdoors year round."
Because people aren't as suited to the severe temperatures, however, the zoo closed the outdoor trail to the public, Geiszler said.
Blowing snow, icy roads and dangerous wind chills prompted school and activities to be canceled in some areas. The state employee relations commissioner declared a weather emergency in Grant, Traverse, Stevens, Big Stone and Swift counties, where all state offices were closed at 3 p.m. and would not reopen until Friday.
The state Department of Transportation advised no travel in those five counties in western Minnesota. MnDOT also advised no unnecessary travel south of Breckenridge and Fergus Falls in western Minnesota or in the Mankato and Windom areas of southern Minnesota due to blowing and drifting snow. The Otter Tail County Sheriff's Office in Fergus Falls said some roads were nearly blocked in the western part of the county.
Late-morning temperatures ranged from the teens below zero in the northwest to the single digits above zero in the northeast, the National Weather Service said. At 3 p.m., Morris in western Minnesota was at minus 8, with a wind chill of 61 below zero. Farther north, Crookston was at minus 11, with a wind chill of minus 59.
Along with the cold came snow, with the most falling along the North Shore of Lake Superior late Wednesday. Grand Marais saw 17 1/2 inches.
Winter weather or wind chill advisories were in effect for virtually all of the state at various times Thursday, but the winds diminished as the night went on and nearly all of the advisories were canceled or allowed to expire. Lows were expected to fall near 30 below in the west and to around 10 below in the east.
Minneapolis' nightly holiday light parade was canceled for the second time this season because of severe weather. Wind chills were expected to plunge to minus 45 or minus 55 by parade time at 6:30 p.m. -- well below the cancellation point of 25 below, parade officials said. It was only the seventh cancellation due to cold weather in nine years of Holidazzle parades.
Motorists tired of shivering in their cars while waiting for them to warm up were keeping workers at Coon Rapids-based AutoFun on the go.
The auto supply store had a waiting list for installation of remote starting systems.
For around $140, depending on the vehicle, drivers could have a system installed that lets them start their engines at the push of a button from the warmth of their home or office, said Lee Schoenfeld, AutoFun president. The system, which works without a key in the ignition, is programmed to shut off after a specific amount of time.
"We are so busy," he said. Workers were installing 50 to 60 systems a day between its Coon Rapids and Bloomington locations.
The company started selling the systems in the winter of 1998.
Even before the weather turned bitter, business was brisk, Schoenfeld said.
"But there's no doubt when it gets cold, it's like selling air conditioners in the summer."
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