Pondering Duluth

In Columbus we are feeling sorry for ourselves, because this winter has been terrible, with multiple days of sub-zero temperatures and lots of snow. (Of course, it’s snowing, again, as I write this.) People try to maintain a positive attitude about it, and the weather is a frequent topic of conversation and gallows humor, but you can tell it’s having an impact. Psychologists say the harsh winter across much of the country has caused an increase in the number of people dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

All of which raises a question: how in the world do people live in Duluth, Minnesota?

Duluth is a port city at the western edge of Lake Superior and is home to more than 80,000 hardy souls. This year, Duluth set a record for the most consecutive days in which the temperature fell below zero. For 23 consecutive days — from January 19 until at least February 11 — Duluthers had to deal with day after frigid day of sub-zero conditions. What’s more, Duluth is likely to set the record for the most days of below-zero temperatures in a winter. As of February 11, the temperature in Duluth had fallen below zero on 56 days, and the all-time record is 59 days. Oh yes . . . and the lake on which Duluth sits is almost completely frozen over.

How do the 80,000+ residents of Duluth do it? How do they steel themselves to deal with day after day of brutal, invasive cold, skin scorched raw by frigid air, and frozen scarves, stocking caps, and balaclavas. How do they face the mass amounts of snowfall, constant use of snow blowers and snow shovels, and looking out over a gray, frozen lake? What tricks or secrets could Duluthers teach the rest of us to help us maintain a positive outlook in the face of winter’s onslaught?

They must really like ice fishing.

The Great Columbus Sub-Zero Water Main Break Of 2014 — An Update

I drove to work this morning fully expecting to find closed roads and skating rink conditions still in downtown Columbus due to yesterday’s water main break. To my astonishment, however, the roads were open and the water main break had been fixed.

IMG_1672How did this come about? A Herculean work effort under ridiculously bad conditions by the City of Columbus Water Department workers, who somehow plugged the breach overnight. They were still out this morning, using a backhoe to break up the asphalt on Fourth Street. By this afternoon they had dug a deep, square hole so that they could get at the root cause of the break. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel couldn’t have done better — and the Water Department workers were doing the job on a day when the temperature didn’t get above the single digits and the wind chill was below zero.

Working in water-logged conditions on such a frigid day must have been terrible. On behalf of all downtown workers who avoided a frustrating traffic snarl due to road closures, I want to say “thanks” to the hard-working folks at the Water Department who pulled off a seeming miracle.

Oh, and there was one other component to the miracle: salt. Lots and lots of salt, and de-icing granules, and every other ice-melting substance known to modern man. I’m not sure how much salt was dumped on the roads and alleys and sidewalks near the intersection of Fourth and Gay Street in the last 36 hours — a ton? two tons? — but there was a coating of salt still visible today, and the salt runoff had leached all color out of the roads and sidewalks. Since I would prefer salt-colored by dry conditions to risking a bad fall on icy sidewalks, that was just fine with me.

The Great Columbus Sub-Zero Water Main Break Of 2014

Extreme cold apparently can wreak havoc on municipal infrastructure. At least, that is the conclusion I’m drawing from the fact that a water main broke in downtown Columbus today, after the temperature outside fell below zero.

IMG_1666Unfortunately, the water main break occurred between the office and where I now park my car. As I walked on my normal route to my parking spot, I saw police cars and other emergency vehicles blocking access. I also saw rivers of water running, sluggishly, down Fourth Street and Gay Street and Long Street and the alleys in the vicinity and turning into ice. And, because it was windy, water was being sprayed everywhere, leaving sidewalks sheathed in an icy blanket.

I had to give the area of the water main break a wide berth to get to my car. This meant I was exposing my face to sub zero temperatures for longer than might be advisable, but since that was the only way to avoid tromping through water and ice and being sprayed with freezing water on a bitterly cold day, it seemed like the most prudent course.

IMG_1670When I finally got to my car, my face felt like a block of ice and the temperature showing on the car’s external thermometer was six below zero. Even running the heater at full blast, it took the interior of the car about ten minutes to warm up.

Now I can only hope that the break gets fixed by tomorrow morning, and that they somehow figure out how to clear the streets of a river of ice before rush hour hits. I wonder, though: how can you fix a water main break when the temperature outside is 6 below zero, and it is supposed to get even colder overnight?