Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Day in Northern Wisconsin History

January 1, 1974 in Rice Lake Wisconsin the ambient temperature at the airport at sunrise was -62 degrees F. Dick Kaner reported that temperature on radio station WJMC. Luckily there was no wind so there was no wind chill. Walking from the barn to our house after milking cows I spit. It hit the snow as a little ball of ice just like in Jack London’s story “To Build a Fire”

By 11 am I was able to start my car when the temperature had warmed to -40 degrees F. My Chesapeake Bay Retriever Chester and I drove out to the Blue Hills near Hardscrabble. I strapped on snow shoes, and we hiked in a mile to check some traps I had set on a beaver colony. I caught 2 beaver whose combined weight was 90 pounds! I put them in my wicker backpack and hiked back to the road.

Snow shoes were an essential component of off road travel in the north woods of Wisconsin long ago

The added weight of the beavers, on top of my wool clothes, caused me to overheat. I took off my coat, slung it over my shoulder, and trundled back to my car. Steam billowed off me as I walked. I wish someone had been with me to take a picture because I must have looked like a cloud on snow shoes.

By sunrise the next day the overnight low had warmed to only -26 degrees F. The beginning of a warming trend. I relive bitter morning and that hike to check beaver traps in my memory every New Years Day.

Not to be outdone, almost three years to the day later, the overnight low in Rice Lake reached -60 degrees F.  As my now deceased mother said that morning "what do you expect? Its Wisconsin."
These bumper stickers were a common sight in Barron County after that equally bitter day in January 1977


  1. Brings back memory of same day, Craig, when my parents were alive and living on Lake Namekagon in Bayfield County. I decided to strap on my old, handmade xx skiis and go for a ski across the lake. My mother begged me not to go out, and my father said, "Let the fool go. Will teach him a lesson." Froze my toes and fingers and came back with icicles hanging from my beard and eyebrows embedded in frost. Just glad there was no wind. Highlight was a raven that circled over me, perhaps taking pity...

  2. We lived in Wisconsin Rapids at the time and I recall the damnable low temps back in those days. The coldest day I experienced in my ten years in the Rapids was sometime in the early to mid-70s and the high for the day was -10. I had to drive up to Medford that day as a cub insurance adjuster and it was one of the most miserable days I have ever experienced. Thankfully those days are behind both of us, but the cool (relatively so) rainy day we're experiencing today here on the Gulf Coast of Florida makes me wonder...