Northern Minnesota towns still debating which was colder in 1996

January 30, 2019 06:51 PM

The 23-year anniversary of the coldest temperature ever recorded in Minnesota is fast approaching. 

According to state records, the mercury dipped to -60 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 2, 1996 in the tiny town of Tower, north of Duluth in St. Louis County.

RELATED: Northern Minnesota town familiar with brutally cold weather

But the temperature and the town have both been at the center of a debate that started that very night. 

Richard Watson of Ely was there.

Expecting a record low, Watson said a friend talked him into spending the night sleeping in a snow cave in Embarrass. Watson made it through the night by wrapping himself in two sleeping bags and using a snorkel to breathe.

Check out temperatures around the state

During the night, the official thermometer in Embarrass malfunctioned. Watson was monitoring a thermometer of his own, and ran to grab a camera to document what he believed to be the record low.

"And at that point it was 72 below," Watson said. "By the time I got to the car, got back and took the picture, it was 64 below."

But the state did not recognize the reading from Watson's thermometer. Instead, they opted to use -60 as the record low, set in nearby Tower.

"I say they're wrong," Watson said with a laugh.

And the debate is still going.

"There's still a competition with Embarrass because they really thought that they had the record that night," Tower mayor Orlyn Kringstad said.

Kringstad sides with the state, but said it's likely the long-running feud may never be resolved.

"It's a little bit like an arm-wrestling match, and I'm sure they're out there watching their gauges tonight and there will be a friendly competition," Kringstad said.

Only another blast of extreme Arctic air could finally settle the score.

"I may go to my grave as being the only one that knows what really happened," Watson said.

Whichever town truly holds the record is a technicality. 

Tower and Embarrass are situated in a valley, which keeps both towns consistently chilly.


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Zach Tecklenburg

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