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Baby, it's cold outside, but workers endured the weather

Pedestrians were few on Main Street at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, in River Falls. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia

It's no exaggeration to say Minnesotans and Wisconsinites have endured Antarctic-like temperatures this past week.

According to the Australian Government's Antarctic Division, low winter temperatures on the icy continent can dive to minus-40 degrees.

Local residents in Wisconsin and Minnesota saw temperatures within striking distance of those numbers these past few days.

With average temperatures frozen between minus-20 and minus-30 degrees and wind chills plunging to the minus-40s and minus-50s, staying safe and warm was a top priority for local workers who had to endure the cold to keep others safe and warm.

Dan Thom, owner of Ellsworth-based Melstrom Towing, said his 24-hour business plowed through the extreme weather and found itself predictably busy.

"We've had just a tremendous amount of calls," Thom said in a recent phone interview.

He was answering nearly 98 calls Tuesday, Jan. 29, with 75 more coming in the next morning. Many of his calls originated from all over Pierce County as well as St. Croix County and Minnesota cities like St. Paul and Rochester.

Thom said many issues people were encountering were slippery spots where their bald tires failed the test.

"(People who are) in the ditch, tires are their big issues. Their tires are just about completely smooth," Thom said. "Do not drive around in these conditions on cruise control. A little hill or corner, if that one tire is on ice, the cruise control don't know any better and will speed up. They don't realize their tires are spinning."

Thom said he also tended to many dead car batteries.

"I've had batteries this morning that are like 8 or 9 years old," Thom said. "I tell them, your battery lasts maybe 5 years at most. They think it should last the life of the car."

Unlike many who experienced car failure, Thom said his crew's equipment and gear held up well in the cold and had no problems.

"Our gear has to be good," Thom added with a chuckle.

Other workers like Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services linemen tended to more unlucky drivers in the wicked cold.

"There were minor incidents where crews have had to go out," Vice President of Electrical Operations Brad Ristow said. "Both were car versus pole and car versus guy-wire."

One incident on Tuesday afternoon caused a large area of people to go without power along Highway 63 near the Bay City and Hager City areas.

Work is slower in these temperatures, Ristow said, but he told his linemen to keep safety first.

"If a lineman felt that they needed to take an extra pickup in case there's a breakdown or something like that so they had heat, or if he felt that it was a larger outage, normally we would run two, but we could take another crew," Ristow said. "He should go ahead so they could get in the truck, warm up and work in a timely manner."

When workers were not on call, Ristow said he kept them inside completing inventory and maintenance on vehicles.

"We've been hanging out doing inside stuff that we need to deal with too, trying to keep the men warm," Ristow said.

Keeping warm will hopefully be easier this weekend, with temperatures expected to rise nearly 50 degrees to a whopping high in the upper 30s according to the National Weather Service.

Rachel Helgeson

Rachel Helgeson

(651) 301-7864
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