Ope, it’s cold: UMN campus adjusts to sub-zero chill

The University of Minnesota community battled the extreme cold Tuesday and Wednesday.

Electrical Engineering sophomore Yilia Yang throws hot water into the air to watch it freeze on Wednesday, Jan. 31 in the East Bank Mall. Yang had the day off because classes were cancelled due to extremely low temperatures.

Image by Ellen Schmidt

Electrical Engineering sophomore Yilia Yang throws hot water into the air to watch it freeze on Wednesday, Jan. 31 in the East Bank Mall. Yang had the day off because classes were cancelled due to extremely low temperatures.

by Jordan Willauer

University of Minnesota students — many covered in scarves, face masks and even ski goggles — braved the harsh weather in a few of the state’s coldest days in more than 20 years.

The extreme cold prompted the University to close its Twin Cities campus, as well as cancel classes for all of Wednesday and part of Tuesday and Thursday. Although campus was closed, University students still needed to complete their assignments, essential employees still needed to work and businesses, not wanting to lose revenue, stayed open. 

Campus closed for many

While the University has canceled classes due to extreme weather in the past, Cherrene Horazuk said a full-campus shutdown is uncommon. Horazuk is the president of AFSCME 3800, the union for local clerical workers at the University. She’s worked at the University for 14 years.

On Tuesday, AFSCME 3800 sent a letter to President Eric Kaler demanding the University, in addition to canceling classes, close the campus for its employees. Horazuk said the administration did not appear to be considering the safety of its workers and faculty. Later that day, the University announced that the campus would be closed and requested only essential employees to come into work on Wednesday.

“We were actually surprised that they changed their decision,” Horazuk said. “We recognize and honor the work that essential employees are doing to make sure the University is staying safe, but we’re glad the University decided to close overall.”

Minnesota state statute defines essential employees are those who work in law enforcement, nursing professional units and supervisory units.

“I’d like to recognize the University administration for actually listening to people and making the right decision,” Horazuk said.

Ashley Bonk, a third-year student, was happy about the cancellations. Although she normally has no class on Wednesdays, she was excited because she knew all her roommates were going to be home. 

“I plan on not leaving the house entirely. I plan on watching movies and that’s about it,” she said.

Dinkytown remains active

Despite cold temperatures, students were still hiking around Dinkytown on Wednesday. Kevin Monagan, a student studying English and political science, still made his way to the Dinkytown Starbucks in the early afternoon on Wednesday. “For me, I was curious what it was like outside,” he said.

Halia Parrott, a third-year student studying nursing, braved the cold for an iced coffee. “I’m going inside for the rest of the day,” she said as she left, clutching her cold beverage.

While a small number of Dinkytown businesses were closed, many like Blarney Pub and Grill, Target and Wally’s Falafel, Hummus and Bakery were still open serving the few customers who decided to brave the cold weather.

Blarney, a popular bar in Dinkytown, was adamant about remaining open. “No way we’re closing early tonight,” said Ben Rouse, a Blarney employee.“People like to drink when it’s cold because it keeps them warm,” he said.  Rouse said that Tuesday evening was a “pretty wild night,” despite the cold temperatures.

Alaina Friedrich, a fourth-year student, said she did not notice how cold it was when she left her home earlier in the day, and she might be desensitized to “anything below zero.” Her toughness against the weather, she said, could probably be attributed to being Minnesotan.

Students from warmer climates brave the polar vortex

Ernie Lopez, a fourth-year student from Long Beach, California, said he was not too worried about the frigid temperatures.

However, not all students from warmer climates are prepared to deal with cold weather. International Student Scholar Services hosts a number of sessions throughout the year that are designed to help international students succeed at the University, including one preparing them for the brutal Minnesota cold.

Students are taught how to dress for winter, stay active, combat isolation and navigate the University during its coldest days, said Nasreen Mohamed, the organizer of the sessions. Mohamed said students are often either terrified of the cold weather or don’t believe how cold it can actually get.

Joao Castro, a second-year student from Brazil, has attended the winter preparation session two times because he finds it helpful. “In Brazil, we never get a temperature lower than 40 degrees,” he said. “When you get [to Minnesota] you aren’t expected to need to know how to deal with winter.”

While Minnesotan winters are hard for some students to deal with, they are a draw for others. 

“I chose to apply to college in the [Northern United States] only so I can experience the snow and all different seasons,” said Leslie Li, a student from the southern coast of China. Li said her freshman year was hard because she was unprepared for the cold.

Juliana Ramos, a graduate student from Brazil, said she was not used to the winter at all. “I think after my first winter, I knew how to dress better,” she said. She said they don’t even make the clothes needed for Minnesota winters in Brazil.

She said she is jealous of her friends and family back in Brazil.

“They’re talking about a beach, and I can’t even leave my house,” Ramos said.