Welcome to 'Icebox of the Nation,' where heat wave runs to high 80s While others swelter, International Falls, Minn., faces high of 60 to 65

July 23, 1998|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

Every winter, weather broadcasters love to end their forecasts with something cheerful like, "But at least we're not in International Falls, Minn., where today's low was a bone-chilling 43 below zero."

Few, however, ever check in with International Falls in the summer. That's not the way Schadenfreude works.

Well, eat your hearts out, everyone in the orange swathes of the weather map: Today's high in International Falls will be between 60 and 65 degrees. We'll spare you the low. (Oh, what the heck: mid- to upper 40s).

"I walk early in the morning, and this morning I had to go back inside for a heavier sweat shirt," Mayor Jack Murray said. "It was 48 degrees."

Like the rest of I-Falls, as this city on the Canadian border is known, Murray well knows how they're used to make the rest of the country feel a little bit warmer in the winter.

"We get a kick out of it," Murray said. "We even got the name 'Icebox of the Nation' copyrighted so in case anyone else thinks they're colder than us, well, they'll have to be 'Refrigerator' or 'Deep Freezer.' "

But turnabout doesn't appear to be fair play in I-Falls. If they're nTC laughing now as a daunting heat wave sweeps west, south and east of them, they're entirely too nice to do so openly.

Over in the land where the response to "thank you" is a hearty "you betcha!" and the opposite of "no" is "yep," a telephone conversation with an I-Faller is a breath of cool air. Perhaps it's the association with the last time you remember hearing that much chirpy good cheer -- in the deliciously snowy movie "Fargo."

"That was kind of a disgrace," Sonny Nesbitt said disprovingly of that black-humored movie. "There never was a patrolman killed that way here."

Nesbitt, a retired state trooper who lives a stone's throw from Canada, was briefly famous in February 1996 when he had someone videotape him throwing a pot of boiling water into the sub-zero air.

"It turned to snow before it even hit the ground. I can send you a copy of it," he said helpfully.

Nesbitt took out his one window air conditioning unit after the noise bothered him. "You only use it four, five times a year anyway," he said.

But International Falls is not always perfectly pleasant in the summer.

"We had a heat wave here, a week, week and a half ago," said Rick Houglum, a city firefighter. "It was in the upper 80s, low 90s. We didn't have any calls for heat strokes, though, or anything, but maybe people went to the hospital themselves."

Actually, while it might have seemed as if temperatures have exceeded 90 degrees in International Falls this summer, the National Weather Service said the highest high so far was a mere 89 degrees, on July 11. The heat spell lasted 6 days, beginning July 8 with 81 degrees and ending July 13 with 87. But then, for a city where the normal high during those days is 78 degrees, it surely felt like 90-something.

Houglum coped with the heat by cooling off as often as he could in nearby Rainy Lake. "And we put our long underwear away," he added with tongue-in-cheek tolerance for those who find Minnesota's weather cute.

"We sure sold lots of ice cream," Marilyn Magner, manager of Cookie's Ice Cream, said of the heat wave. "It was noticeably warmer."

But it was nothing, Magner said with a perceptible shudder in her voice, like the honeymoon she and her husband took eight years ago to Las Vegas.

"It was like 110 degrees above zero," said Magner. "That was something. We got on a bus to go see the Hoover Dam, the bus broke down and we were on the side of the road for an hour and a half. That was enough for us. I would rather be where I'm at right now."

We betcha.

Pub Date: 7/23/98

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