Working through the weather

Just because the temperatures are in the arctic zone doesn't mean essential services stop. This week the Independent looked at several businesses and agencies that had intrepid employees who did their jobs despite bitter cold temperatures.

Photo by Deb Gau For many local people, work still went on despite the extreme cold in the region this week. On Wednesday, a crew of electrical workers from Marshall Municipal Utilities had to dig through a snowdrift to replace a transformer along Saratoga Street. The transformer blew a fuse Tuesday night, leaving some residents without power for a little over two hours.

MARSHALL

All of Minnesota was in a deep freeze this week, as subzero temperatures combined with wind chills close to 60 below. Weather and safety experts urged people to avoid going out in the cold.

But although a long list of area businesses and schools closed down in response to the frigid temperatures, not everyone stayed home. Some Marshall area residents, from utility and snowplow crews to newspaper carriers, were out doing their work in spite of the cold on Tuesday and Wednesday.

It felt like 26 degrees below zero on Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. Just the same, an electric crew from Marshall Municipal Utilities was digging into a snowdrift to replace a transformer near Saratoga Street, on the south edge of town.

“We had a transformer fuse that blew” on Tuesday night, said MMU electric operations manager Steve Johnson. “With the extreme cold weather, people were using more electricity.” Johnson said power to about three four-plex buildings on Thunderbird Road was out for a little over two hours on Tuesday night, as MMU crews worked to dig out and repair the transformer.

Utilities workers returned Wednesday to replace the transformer.

Johnson said MMU employees were mainly focused on indoor work Tuesday and Wednesday, to limit exposure to the cold. But crews were also prepared to respond to emergencies.

“We never know when there’s going to be an outage,” he said.

For workers like delivery people and mail carriers, going out in the elements was also part of the job. However, Wednesday’s temperatures were just too much. The U.S. Postal Service suspended mail deliveries throughout Minnesota and Iowa on Wednesday. Even before that, the Postal Service was still being cautious, making sure carriers were dressed appropriately for the weather and monitoring their status throughout the day, said USPS spokesperson Kristy Anderson. Keeping sidewalks and mailbox access clear of snow is one way for the public to help their mail carriers, Anderson said.

Newspaper carriers were another group who had to deal with extreme winter weather this week. Deliveries of the Marshall Independent were interrupted by snow and severe cold on Monday and Wednesday, and carriers said conditions were still challenging on Tuesday.

Jim and Angie Andrews show up at the Independent each morning around 3 a.m. to pick up their newspapers and sort them for delivery. The couple deliver newspapers in Lynd, Russell, Tyler, Lake Benton, Slayton, Balaton, Ruthton, Currie and Tracy.

“There was a lot of drifting snow we had to bust through,” Jim Andrews said of delivering the papers on Tuesday morning. On that morning they had to deliver Monday’s edition as well, because the truck from the printers couldn’t get to Marshall in time because of the snowfall.

“It was really cold. We had to keep going back and forth into the vehicle to just warm up,” he said. “The roads were already not nice at 7 o’clock. The wind hasn’t gone down and there were a lot of drifts. It’s hard because we are out there before the plows.”

Carriers within the city of Marshall faced bitter temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday. The conditions meant making some extra preparations to stay warm.

“I think (Tuesday) morning was kind of a wake-up call,” said paper carrier Russ Oglesby. While he usually covers his head and wears a face mask in cold weather, on Tuesday, he said, “I realized I needed something for my eyebrows.”

“I usually don’t put on snow pants, but yesterday I did,” said carrier Augie Sturrock of Tuesday’s deliveries. Together with his dad David Sturrock, Augie was out making deliveries twice that day — newspapers in the morning, and copies of the Country Spirit in the afternoon. David Sturrock said the wind chill Tuesday afternoon was 49 degrees below zero, according to his phone.

While Augie Sturrock said he got through Tuesday’s cold all right, his advice to other carriers was, “Bundle up. A lot.”

Oglesby estimated he’s delivered newspapers since about 1998. Even thinking back over his experience, he said, “It’s been a while since it’s been this cold.”

They don’t travel their delivery routes on foot, but beer distributors were also impacted by the weather. Landon Erickson, branch supervisor of Beverage Wholesalers in Marshall, said they started delivery routes later on Tuesday, and stopped deliveries on Wednesday. A major problem with making deliveries in this week’s weather was that temperatures were cold enough to freeze the beer inside the delivery trucks. Erickson said unloading trucks would also expose employees to the bitter cold.

“Having our guys out in this is more of a concern,” Erickson said. Instead, he said, Beverage Wholesalers will be making up for the weather by having more route drivers out after Wednesday. “We’re kind of crunching our whole week into three days.”

Other people working through the severe weather include city street and maintenance workers. Marshall Parks Supervisor Preston Stensrud said city parks workers were continuing to clear city-owned sidewalks and trails. It’s an ongoing job, because of drifting snow.

“Certain areas, even if we get a little wind, they drift in,” Stensrud said.

While most snow removal vehicles have closed cabs, workers ranging from snowplow drivers to the maintenance workers keeping the Marshall airport runways clear were also making preparations to deal with the week’s extreme cold. Sandra Schlagel, public affairs coordinator for Minnesota Department of Transportation District 8, said MnDOT snowplow crews usually won’t head out alone during extreme cold, in case of a breakdown.

Andy Meulebroeck, head maintenance worker at the Marshall airport, said maintenance crews also make sure to dress for the weather as they plow snow from the runway.

“It’s cold, but you just wear more layers,” Meulebroeck said.

— Mike Lamb also contributed to this story

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