Just when you thought it couldn't get any colder, temperatures in the Brainerd lakes area are about to get downright brutal.
Residents in the Brainerd lakes area could see a 71-degree difference from Wednesday night through Saturday, Feb. 2-temperatures that do not include wind chill values.
Brainerd along with the cities in Aitkin, Crow Wing and Cass counties are in a wind chill warning and a wind chill watch through Thursday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth. The coldest air temperature Brainerd residents are expected to see this week comes Wednesday night at 38 degrees below zero. The highest temperature is forecast for Saturday during the day with 33 degrees above zero.
The NWS issues a wind chill warning when the combination of wind and very cold air create dangerous wind chills. Hypothermia can set in quickly, which may lead to death, and frostbite can develop within minutes, the NWS stated.
"Take action to protect yourself from the cold," the NWS stated. "Cover up, dress warmly and in layers, and limit your time outdoors. Travel with extra blankets or additional clothing in case of vehicle trouble."
Several school districts in the lakes area canceled classes and activities Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 29-30, in anticipation of bitter cold. The forecast calls for a high of 17 degrees below zero Tuesday and wind chill values between 40-50 degrees below zero, and a high of 15 below zero Wednesday, with a northwest wind around 10 mph and gusts as high as 15 mph. Students who attend Brainerd, Pillager, Little Falls, Crosby, Pequot Lakes, Pierz, Pine River, Staples-Motley and Wadena will have no school those two days. Central Lakes College also closed for two days.
School districts made the call to close school and all activities early Monday afternoon. Several schools in the Twin Cities also pre-emptively canceled classes for Tuesday and Wednesday because of the expected cold temperatures, but Minnesota Public Radio reported Gov. Tim Walz won't order a statewide closure of Minnesota schools and will instead defer to local school districts "because they know best the conditions in their area and how to keep their students safe."
The frigid temperatures are likely to bottom out on Wednesday, with a near-record low temperature in the forecast, according to historical data kept by the NWS in Duluth.
The low temperature Wednesday night is expected to be 38 degrees below zero. The record low temperature on Jan. 30 in Brainerd was 40 degrees below zero, set in 1996. The high temperature forecast for Wednesday is 15 degrees below zero. The record lowest high temperature for Jan. 30 in Brainerd-12 degrees below-also was set in 1996.
The low temperature Tuesday night is expected to be 32 degrees below zero. The record low temperature for Jan. 29 is 38 degrees below zero, set in 1965.
The forecast shows signs of improvement starting Thursday.
Thursday's forecast calls for a high temperature near 6 degrees below zero and a low of about 15 degrees below zero; Friday's high is expected to be near 14 degrees with a low of 6 degrees; and Saturday's high temp could be near 33 and a low of 19.
The NWS reported extremely cold weather is anticipated to arrive in the Northland with temperatures plunging well below zero, Monday night into Tuesday morning with the influx of brutally cold air from Canada. This cold air, combined with brisk to at times gusty northwest winds, will result in periods of rare wind chills of 40 to 65 below zero across the Northland. Wind chills of 35 to 55 below zero will develop by late Monday night and continue through at least Tuesday morning, with little improvement Tuesday afternoon. The worst conditions will develop Tuesday night through Wednesday morning, with widespread wind chills of 40 to 65 below zero.
Across the nation
By the end of the week, more than 87 million people in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions will experience temperatures at or below zero degrees and wind chills far colder, The Washington Post reported.
A portion of the polar vortex, the pool of subfreezing air that normally swirls over the Arctic Circle, dives into the Midwest this week, pushing temperatures off a cliff. The most intense cold will last from Tuesday night through Thursday across a broad region from North Dakota south into Missouri and as far east as upstate New York, the Washington Post stated. Temperatures are forecast to run as much as 50 degrees below average for late January.
Some forecasts Monday, Jan. 28, are calling for temperatures to drop to 29 below zero in Chicago, 2 degrees below its lowest temperature on record, set on Jan. 20, 1985. The wind chill will plunge to minus 30 to minus 40 as far south as Illinois and northern Indiana.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found cold weather is responsible for the majority of weather-related fatalities, the story stated. The wind chill temperature is more than a catchy forecast term. The wind blows away the insulating layer of warm air generated naturally by bodies. Wind chill attempts to quantify the effect in terms of how it feels on the skin, which is why it's sometimes called the "feels like" temperature.
The cold air is riding behind an Arctic front that brought several inches of snow to the same region over the weekend. The pure white ground will only enhance the chill, as sunlight reflects off the snow and back to space instead of being absorbed into the ground where it could warm things up.
Frozen pipes and meters, another concern
Brainerd Public Utilities Superintendent Scott Magnuson said BPU is urging residents to take precautions over the next few days to protect their water pipes and meters from freezing. Property owners are responsible for protecting both water pipes and the water meter from damage.
Magnuson said BPU has had a few calls from customers with frozen pipes or meters. He said BPU contacted about 150 residential and business owners about running their water to prevent the pipes from freezing. He said these properties experienced frozen pipes and meters back in 2014, which was a very cold winter.
"Normally when we see our first freeze-up, if we have any, is in the middle to the end of February," Magnuson said. "Back in 2014, we started seeing pipes freeze before Christmas, so we knew we were gonna be in trouble."
Magnuson said to help prevent frozen pipes and meters people may flush the toilet whenever they walk by the bathroom, run a load of laundry daily and/or run a little water-a pencil-sized stream-down the drain.
"Do not let your faucet drip as they can make things worse," Magnuson said. "Just running the water about an eighth of an inch for about a half-hour at night, will help."
The size of the household plays a role in water pipes and meters freezing. The more people in the home, the less chance for pipes to freeze as there is more people running water, such as for showers.
If there are only one or two people in a household, these people may want to run their water to prevent their water pipes and meters from freezing. Magnuson said preventing pipes and the meter from freezing is easier than trying to thaw them. It also is much cheaper than having to repair or replace water pipes and meters.
No adjustment will be given to the customer on their utility bill to run water, unless BPU has specifically told the customer to do so.
Preventing and treating frozen pipes
BPU offered tips for homeowners when there are several below zero temperatures.
• Eliminate cold drafts near water pipes
• Tightly close doors and windows to the outside.
• Install storm windows on basement windows.
• Eliminate drafts from crawl spaces.
• Fill cracks in walls and around windows.
• Turn off all outside water connections.
• Provide warmth to the water pipes
• Open the door to the room where the pipes are located to allow warmth to circulate.
• Place a lighted bulb near water pipes Never use open flames.
• Wrap pipes in insulation or heat tape.
• If the kitchen or bathroom sink is located against an outside wall, insulate the wall. Open cabinet door below the sink to allow warm air to reach pipe.
• If a person is going to be away from their home for extended period of time, shut off the water supply to the home.
How to prevent a frozen water meter
• It is colder near the floor and along the block wall of a basement than at the ceiling, so make sure warm air is allowed to circulate around the meter.
• If the meter is in a separate room, leave the door open to this room to allow warmth to circulate.
• If the meter is in a cabinet, open the cabinet door.
• Follow the above instructions for preventing frozen water pipes.
How to thaw frozen water pipes
• The pipes are frozen if no water comes from the faucets when a person turns them on. Most likely the pipes nearest a wall, door, window or along the floor are frozen.
• Start by opening a faucet near the frozen pipe to release any vapor from the melting ice and to know when the water starts flowing again.
• Begin warming the pipes nearest the faucet and work toward the frozen section.
• Blow warm air on the pipe using a hair dryer. Do not leave the dryer unattended or allow it to overheat.
• Don't use a blowtorch or open flame to warm pipes. This is a fire hazard and could cause an explosion.
• Once water has begun to flow again, let a pencil-sized stream of water flow through the faucet until normal heating is restored to the area.
• Eliminate cold drafts and allow warm air to circulate around the pipes to prevent freezing again.
Sunday overnight snowfall totals
Brainerd water plant: 4 inches.
Pine River Dam: 4.8 inches.
Leech Lake Dam: 2.5 inches.
Gull Lake Dam: 8.6 inches.
The Washington Post contributed to this story.