-15 temps prompt shrug, not shiver from Yoopers

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Sault Ste. Marie — On a Thursday morning that began at 15 degrees below zero and promised to get worse, this snow-encrusted city responded not with a shudder but a shrug.

Residents ran errands. A pizzeria prepared for a long-awaited grand opening. Yes, school was closed because of the weather but kids went sledding instead of staying home.

These Nanooks of the North said they’re used to severe weather. They live in the Upper Peninsula, where snow falls by the foot.

“We’ll persevere. That’s how we do it up here,” said Justin Fisher, 37, who has lived in northern Michigan his whole life.

Temperatures were expected to drop to -18 degrees Thursday night and -19degress Friday evening, which the wind could push to -36 and -35, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a wind chill warning until Friday at noon.

The Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay heads toward Whitefish Bay Thursday.

In case you’re wondering, that’s colder than the South Pole, whose low during the same period will be -3. The forecasted low of -19 for Friday is short of the historic low of -25 set on Jan. 5, 1896.

To someone from Detroit, this all sounds bone-rattling, frozen-pipe-bursting, car-battery-killing cold. To someone from Sault St. Marie, it’s a brisk winter day.

Jack Lowry doesn’t understand the fuss. He hears about ice rinks closing in other parts of Michigan because of the weather and scratches his head. He reads about Florida in a tizzy over snow flurries and thinks: How quaint.

“Down south you shut down for a few inches of snow. Up here we keep going,” Lowry said during his daily walk through downtown.

It’s not like locals are totally oblivious to what’s happening around them. The bottom falling out of the thermometer was the talk of the downtown eateries Thursday.

But nobody was planning to hibernate. When things get sub-zero, residents don another layer of clothes, they said. The more cautious may throw a blanket in the car in case they get stranded by the aforementioned battery-killing cold.

At City Hall, it was business as usual.

“We’re certainly no stranger to cold weather,” said City Manager Oliver Turner.

Here’s how three generations of the stolid citizenry cope with a freezing (but not unbearably freezing) day.

Youngster embraces cold

Some people like cool weather while others prefer warm. But who in their Arctic-addled minds likes 15 degrees below zero?

Tommy Wilson, for one.

With school closed for the day, the 6th grader had two choices: Commune with his iPhone in the cozy confines of his home or hurtle face-first down an icy hill into a bracing wind.

Did we mention the hill, at the city Sault Seal Recreation Area, comes with a lift that pulls inner-tube riders back up the slope?

For Wilson, 11, there was no choice a’tall.

“It’s cool. It’s fun,” he said. “I come all the time.”

Three hours after opening at 3 p.m., Sault Seal had 31 customers. It normally has three to four times that many, a clerk said.

The tightly bundled Wilson wore thick gloves but, after several descents, admitted to some numbness in his hands. But that’s the beauty of inner tubes: No need to steer.

Stroll through the park

Lowry has the same routine most days: Take a stroll through a riverfront park on the city’s east side. The tradition continued Thursday.

He made one concession to the elements. Instead of traipsing to Rotary Park in the morning, he went midafternoon, when the temperatures were positively balmy, -4 degrees. The weather service pronounced the day “sunny.”

Lowry, 81, a retired baker, wondered why his shivering inquisitor from Detroit was all aquiver about the climate.

“This is winter in the U.P. This is what we get,” he harrumphed.

As he spoke in the empty park, chunks of ice bobbed in the St. Mary’s River, which separates the city from the other Sault Ste. Marie, the one claimed by Canada.

The ice had snagged two freighters last week, and that was before temperatures plummeted even further. But Sault Ste. Marie residents took it all in stride.

“Happens all the time,” Lowry said.

Hot and nearly ready

The opening of North of Chicago Pizza near downtown was delayed but not because of the weather. Fisher, the owner, just had to sort out some construction issues.

The remodeling is done and the grand opening is Friday, which is Day 2 of the Deep Freeze. Fisher scoffed at the notion of waiting for more genial weather.

“It’s the Great White North,” he said. “It’s going to be cold.”

He’s used to it. He grew up in Cheboygan and moved across the Mackinac Bridge when he was 14.

Fisher said he has been dreaming of this day for a long time. During 13 years as a truck driver, he missed getting to do things with his son, 7. He doesn’t want the same thing to happen with his daughter, 2.

As for the grand opening, it could have been worse, he said. He could have been opening an ice cream shop.


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Twitter: @francisXdonnell