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Swift: Cold enough for ya? A beginner's guide to winter in North Dakota

Tammy Swift, columnist. The Forum

FARGO -- So it’s your first winter in North Dakota. Ever since you moved here, people have been talking about The Winter. They say it as if they are talking about one of the most terrifying entities on the planet, like a Loch Ness Sasquatchachupacabra or some nightmarish monster from the mind of Guillermo del Toro.

They give you a look of foreboding and pity — and perhaps just a teensy bit of schadenfreude. “You think you know Winter, Grasshopper?” they ask. “You, who are standing there in a winter coat that is clearly not weather-rated for more than 0 degrees, and that’s with moderate activity? You, who insisted on driving a Vespa throughout most of December? You, with those fancy, high-heeled, suede foot coverings you so laughably consider to be ‘winter boots?’”

You — my tender, trusting lamb, my adorable sprite — you do not know winter. Winter is like the meteorological equivalent of being audited, and you are about as prepared as a forgetful old man with a garbage bag filled with coffee-stained receipts.

Perhaps you tried to tell your new North Dakota friends that you are used to snow. After all, you once lived in Idaho — and they would sometimes get as much as 19 inches of snow a year! At that point, you will be greeted by paroxysms of laughter.

People will say: “That’s nothing! We once had 19 inches of snow in May alone!” Or: “I ran a marathon in 19 inches of snow!” Or: “I carried my two sisters uphill for 3 miles to a one-room schoolhouse in 19 feet of snow EVERY DAY, and when I got home my Dad would tell me it was time to stop lollygagging and get started on my real chores!”

Or, perhaps this is your second or third year here, and you’ll tell people that you’ve already survived a North Dakota winter. Once again, they will laugh, for an important thing to remember about North Dakota winter is that — even if it was 70-below for a solid month — there’s always been a time when it was worse

“Last year? Last year was nothing!” they’ll bellow. “We haven’t had a really good ‘bad winter’ since our last quadruple polar vortex, when it was 100-below for an entire month! Your nose froze shut and your eyes froze open the very second you walked outside! My dog froze to the ground! My weird Uncle Eugene — you know, the one who says he loves cold weather and wears shorts year-round? — he wore pants!”

But, seriously, don’t despair. We talk tough, but we’re mostly pretty kind. The same person who scoffs at your Smart car may be the first one to help you shovel it out when you get stuck in your driveway. And, as long as you follow these tried-and-true snowvival tips, you should do just fine:

Remember to do your snow-cery shopping: The minute you hear the first weather report of an impending storm, it is important to get to the store and stock up as if you are about to spend the next 40 days in an underground bunker. Do not be alarmed by the sight of other shoppers running down the aisle, furtively filling their carts with lifesaving staples like Diet Coke, powdered doughnuts and toilet paper. Simply channel your inner Black Friday shopper, and imagine you are racing through Walmart at 6 a.m. in your quest for that one $107 4K TV.

Have no fear if you impulsively buy more food than your refrigerator and freezer can hold. The beauty of North Dakota is that you can turn your unheated garage into a cold-storage warehouse. (Heck, I have three hams, a standing rib roast and a 25-pound bag of California-blend vegetables in mine right now.)

You can’t be too prepared: An ounce of preparation can ward off a pound of frostbite. Is your car filled with gas? How about the snowblower? If you don’t have a snowblower, did you remember to bring cookies to the neighbor who does have a snowblower? Did you have the furnace checked out and serviced last fall? Have carbon monoxide detectors been checked? Have you considered a backup-backup-backup power generator? Is your car outfitted with a winter survival kit? Has your dog been winterized? Do you think you should have had more children so they could have helped with the shoveling?

Are your taxes done for 2024? Have you allowed your hot chocolate and marshmallow supplies to reach dangerously low levels? Have you posted the obligatory blizzard photo, complete with wacky “Cold enough for ya?” caption on Facebook?

Do you know the way to Santa Fe, and, if so, are you already looking for jobs there? Don’t worry. Once you get through your first polar vortex, you’re like a war veteran. It’s now your turn to brag to all your friends in warmer climes about surviving your first 40-below day (and that was without wind chill!)

Congratulations. You’re one of us now.

Unless you move to Santa Fe. Then you’re one of them.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.