Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's All Relative

The title is in reference to winter weather… yours, mine, and that found elsewhere. Speaking of “elsewhere”… you may find the following interesting, Gentle Reader. Or not. But here it is:

Baby It’s Cold Outside…

……as one of my favorite Christmas songs goes, but we can’t say we weren’t warned. Like our up to the minute 24 hour news channels, we were bombarded with warnings, alerts, and pager updates for days prior to the arrival of an Arctic Clipper last week. Let me tell you, we’ve seen worse. I understand we were one of the more fortunate ones, though, because we received very little snow. We did, however, get the 30 below on the thermometer and 52 below wind chill temperatures so we didn’t go completely unscathed and after five days we just went above zero for about a minute today. Like I said, we’ve seen worse, but it seemed unusual enough to fill air time on the national news. It is funny to hear and read others reactions to our weather which we know is just part of our way of life here in “the North Country”.

I was invited to join the Fortuna Air Force Station group site (ed: I added this link) on the internet some time ago and have watched with interest the many comments and memories this weather has conjured up for these once young service men and women who I’m quite sure wondered, at times, if they hadn’t been shipped to Siberia rather than northwest North Dakota . Apparently our current winter has nothing on the winter of 1961-62. Here are a few quotes recently posted on the Fortuna Air Force Station site in regards to that memorable winter:

“In the winter of 61-62 it got down to -52, colder than I saw it in Alaska -30. Louis Able who worked in the power plant left for his home in Westby at 2400, at 0200 his wife called and informed us he hadn't made it home. I got the GSA 1 ton and called Sgt Melcher in Westby, Melcher headed east found him just before we got to his car (Mercury Marauder convertible) Able only had his field jacket with him. He never could follow orders. We had our parka and snow pants and a comforter we were to take with us when we went off base. We were supposed to take food and gas too. It was probably the same in later years.”
Don Luther
EPPT 61-62

That’s from the Westby Border News… in Westby, Montana… and there’s more about the weather at the quoted piece’s title link. Long-time readers may remember I lived up in Westby once upon a time, for about seven or eight months (prior to that I lived in Plentywood for a couple o’ few months, which is about 30 miles west of Westby). And yeah: I was firmly convinced that Siberia has NOTHING on Westby and environs when it comes to “cold.” I have never experienced cold like I experienced up there… before or since.

And I hope I never, ever experience it again.

The pic is a re-re-run and is my absolute favorite Fortuna photo. But it wasn't always like this... summers were a lot o' fun (scroll to the very bottom of the linked page).


  1. i've always wanted to see if one could pee ice...i'm certain in that could be possible.

  2. Dawn's hubby, who works for Halliburton, is somewhere near Montana this winter. They do not turn the big trucks off. They just keep them running due to the cold.

  3. Jay sez: i've always wanted to see if one could pee ice...i'm certain in that could be possible.

    Long ago and far away I heard of pee freezing before it hit the ground... from guys who were stationed up in Alaska. I, OTOH, was never brave enough to expose certain of my favorite body parts to the elements in an attempt to prove/disprove that theory. There's that risk/reward thing to think about... ;-)

    Lou: It's common practice to leave vehicles running up in The Great White North... in the absence of outlets to plug in your block-heater. We had 110 vac outlets on the radar site at most parking places, but that wasn't the case off-base. It wasn't unusual at all to see a gaggle of cars parked in front of the local bar in Westby during the dead of winter... ALL of which were running, unattended. I never heard of a car being stolen, either. There are bennies associated with living up in those parts, chief among which are the quality of folks you meet.

  4. "I never heard of a car being stolen, either. There are bennies associated with living up in those parts, chief among which are the quality of folks you meet."

    There probably hasn't been a car stolen in Westby ... ever. And the folks there are just as wonderful as always. Same goes for the folks in Westby's closest neighboring town, Fortuna, ND. All 20 of them. : )

  5. There's 20 folks in Fortuna now? Population explosion!! ;-)

  6. Never had reason to go to Fortuna, but I heard the stories. I got to Grand Forks just in time for the Feb. 1984 blizzard. A fairly normal winter Saturday; a little snow, nothing bad expected. Then the Alberta clipper hit, and the world disappeared for 18 hours. We (at the GFAFB weather station) should have had a clue; we got calls from the missile LCC's to the north reporting zero/zero conditions. But the civilian weather folks and ours agreed that the crust on top of the snowpack would keep the wind from blowing it around. We were wrong; snowflakes are spiky little things, and with plenty of wind, they carved right through that crust, and then there was a whole lot of snow to blow around.

    It's hard to convey the terror of being caught in a whiteout to someone who's never been in one. At home, you're fine. In your car, to can't see the end of the hood. You can't see the stripes on the road. You can't see anything but white, and at night, a faint glow from the front from your headlights. Eighteen people died that night, including eight inside the city limits of Fargo (got stuck in an underpass near the airport). The airbase sent out a plow followed by a bus with food and hot drinks; they rescued about 80 people stuck on Hwy 2 between the base and Grand Forks--including a woman in labor, who gave birth in the base hospital.

    North Dakota is a cruel place for the unwary.

  7. Wow, Gordon! Your story illustrates... perfectly... the dangers of the weather in NoDak.

    I had my moment of terror one dark and extremely cold night (sub-zero WX in December, if memory serves) on the way back to Westby from the airport in Minot. My friend Lori and I had gone down to pick up a friend of hers who was gonna visit for a while and we blew a radiator hose on the return trip... miles from frickin' nowhere. The irony is we borrowed my roomie's car, a late model Olds Cutlass, coz we thought it would be more reliable than my ten year old Nova. It wasn't. To make a long story short... a car came along about a half hour after we blew the hose, loaded the three of us up and drove us right to our front door... about 50 miles or so out of his way. That guy saved our lives and I'm NOT being melodramatic at all.

    And ya... white-outs are extremely scary. I experienced a couple while stationed at Wakkanai AS, Japan... but not in NoDak.

  8. 66-67: Scobey, MT which is about 45 minutes West of Plentywood. The bulk of growing up was in Havre and Malta. So what's a little cold? I have seen -65 in my lifetime. In fact the winter of 68-69 hit areas of Montana, Alberta and Saskatchewan with highs that were at times lucky to be -30F.

  9. Buck, I remember that trip to/from Minot to get Amy ("What you wanna do?"). I can remember her laughing at our predicament, and your annoyance, followed by a sharp retort: "We could DIE out here!!" Which was true.

    I experienced at least one white out while at Fortuna, driving from the "base" (as the locals still call it) to town in Deb's green Monza. (Talk about a piece of sh!t car ...) It was daytime; couldn't see to the end of the hood. No choice but to keep on driving while trying to feel the pavement under the tires, because the worst thing you can do is stop. The chances of being hit from behind are very real, even (or maybe especially) in a place where you'd think there would be little traffic (one of Murphy's Laws kicks in).

    As for my own personal experiences with nice folks up that way picking up people when the weather is rough, one of my most vivid memories is running out of gas between the "base" and Westby, and several gals from Fortuna coming along to pick me up and take me the rest of the way, where I got gas, and then returning me to my Jeep. Bummer for them: they had a cake in a box in the backseat that I didn't see, and I sat on it! Bummer for me: when I got back to the Jeep, I promptly spilled gas on myself and there is NOTHING worse than being soaked in gasoline in sub-sub-zero temps. I was staying at your house then, Buck (I think you were TDY in Florida), and I couldn't get those clothes off, and myself into the bathtub, fast enough when I finally arrived "home" for the night.

    Occasionally I flirt with the idea of moving back up there ... hmm ... sub-zero winters, 100 degree Julys with a bazillion mosquitoes ... what am I thinking??

    : )

  10. Wow... thanks for jogging the ol' memory, Lori (as noted elsewhere).

    Ya think I should maybe post that war-story about your house sitting experiences? Heh. DOUBLE-Heh. Not a snowball's chance in Hell, ya know. ;-)

    As far as moving back up there goes... we've had this discussion numerous times, haven't we? And I'm in complete agreement with your last..."What ARE you thinking?!"

  11. Below zero winter night, about 2 a.m., on US 75 between Crookston, MN and Moorhead, MN. Not a busy road, and especially not at 2 a.m. I had the wife and kid with me, and we had a flat.

    Three cars stopped to help, and ALL of them actually helped change the tire, and none left until it was done.

    Another sub-zero night, about five miles north of Mayville, ND on I-29. I had a flat, and the lock was frozen on the trunk. No one stopped; the interstates are different, I guess. I walked to the nearest house; it was about half a mile across a frozen beet field.

    The door was answered by a girl in her early teens. I told her I'd wait outside, but she brings me in, and called her parents, who were at some event in Mayville. The parents call the AAA station in Mayville. The AAA guy picked me up at the house, and then got the trunk open, and changed the tire for me (I know how to change a tire, honest!). I'm still amazed to this day that the girl let me in, and her parents were unconcerned that their daughter had a stranger in the house (of course, the girl probably knew where the guns were, and how to use them).

    North Dakota weather may be cruel, but the people aren't. That's why we think of living there.

  12. North Dakota weather may be cruel, but the people aren't. That's why we think of living there.

    Amen to that, Gordon!


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