The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 19, 2013

Record cold could be on the way

By Tim Krohn
The Free Press

MANKATO — Everybody loves weather records. On Monday, we'll find out if we're going to end a local weather record that's lasted 1,113 days. That's how long its been since we've had a day that never got above zero.

"It has been a long time since southern Minnesota has seen this kind of cold," said Greg Spoden, a climatologist in the Minnesota Climatology Office.

Four winters ago, on Jan. 2, 2010, the high in Mankato was minus 6.

The high for tomorrow is forecast for around zero. "So you're going to be right on the cusp," Spoden said.  

Mankato came close to ending the streak this past Christmas Day, but the high temperature rose to plus 3.

The Twin Cities has a slightly longer above-zero record that stands at 1,466 days. On Jan. 2, 2010, warmth generated by urban heat pushed them just above zero, keeping their record going.  

Whether it ends our record or not, today and the coming three days are going to be harsh.

"It's coming right out of the Arctic. It's going to come hurtling southward on the back of some very strong winds," Spoden said. Wind chills will be in the minus 20 to minus 30 range tonight.

Spoden said Minnesotans haven't in recent years had to deal with long stretches of days that stay below zero.

Global warming has meant that seven of the 10 warmest years in recorded Minnesota history have taken place since 1998.

The brief cold snap, which will bring lows of near minus 10, eases by Wednesday when temperatures should start returning to about 20 degrees.

While the lack of snow and cold temperatures usually bring ground frost-related problems in septic tanks and even water pipes, this year is different.

"The frost is acting in a strange way this year," said Pete Forrey of Forrey Septic Systems in Mankato. "The drought has really affected things."

Normally, deep frost causes pipes going into septic systems to freeze, causing them to clog. Not this year.

Because of the drought, the clay soil in the area is shrinking and shifting, causing home foundations to crack and shift and raising havoc with pipes going to septic systems.

"I've seen where the ground shifts and it breaks pipes or breaks fittings and separates pipes," Forrey said.

He said that septic systems in recent years have generally seen fewer freeze-up problems because septic construction has improved. State code changed the way septic tanks were installed beginning in 1998. But Forrey said many of the septics first put in after the new regulations weren't designed with enough soil over them, causing headaches.

"The construction process had to be tweaked. Now we're not seeing the frost problems."