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Published January 01, 2014, 09:02 PM

December 2013 among coldest on record; businesses see increased weather-related needs

If December seemed colder than usual, that’s because it was. The month’s near record-breaking cold temperatures have challenged some businesses and contributed to an increase in car accidents.

By: Charley Haley, Grand Forks Herald

If December seemed colder than usual, that’s because it was.

The month’s near record-breaking cold temperatures have challenged some businesses and contributed to an increase in car accidents.

Jeff Makowski, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, said December 2013 was the fourth coldest December in the area since 1890. The average temperature was 0.6 degrees.

It was on average about 11 degrees colder than normal in Grand Forks, and the frigid temperatures are forecast to stay through at least the first couple of weeks of January, Makowski said.

“The month of December has been very cold,” he said.

Eleven of the month’s 31 days record high temperatures below zero. The thermometer topped out at zero on three other occasions. In addition to the cold, Grand Forks recorded 22.8 inches of snow during December, weather service data shows.

The coldest average temperature for December in Grand Forks was 1917, followed by 2000 and 1983.

The Grand Forks Police Department has seen an increase in car accidents and a slight increase in other motor vehicle assist calls, like people whose cars have stalled, said Sgt. Bill Macki.

And the cold is too much for some local towing companies to handle, said Jerry Slinger, owner of Interstate Towing and Recovery in Grand Forks.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” Slinger said. “We’ve never been this far behind.”

Business has quadrupled compared to a “normal” December, he said, but even after hiring three more people and seasonal help, Interstate can’t keep up with the demand. The largest increase is in diesel vehicles that have their fuel turn to a gel because of the cold.

It’s good to have the extra business, Slinger said, but he doesn’t like turning away customers.

Despite being busy, though, Slinger said his staff won’t leave anyone stranded. He’s sent his wife, other employees’ spouses or friends in private cars to pick up people before Interstate Towing can service the vehicle.

“We go get the people and do what it takes to get them going,” he said. Also, Interstate and other local towing companies stay in touch with each other to make sure people are serviced as quickly as possible.

During most Decembers, Slinger said Interstate could get out to a stranded diesel vehicle immediately. This winter, the wait time is three to four hours. The towing company can still service regular cars almost immediately this winter, he said.

Interstate Towing is located in Grand Forks, but serves areas as far away as Winnipeg, Thief River Falls and Crookston, Slinger said.

It’s not just the towing business that’s increased either. Interstate’s battery supplier, a nationwide company called Interstate Batteries, is having trouble keeping batteries in stock, Slinger said.

“The cold weather is just the beginning of a lot of problems – but for us it’s a business opportunity,” Slinger said.

At least one local store is seeing its inventory run low as people rush to buy coats, hats, boots and gloves.

Jim Ward, advertising manager at Home of Economy, said between Christmas and the cold weather, the store is “kind of hurting for product,” running short on some winter clothes.

“The trouble has been all over the country, not just our area,” Ward said, which is why some of Home of Economy’s vendors have been slow to restock.

The local demand this winter isn’t much worse than other winters, it just came earlier than usual — in December instead of mid-January or February, Ward said.

Similar to Slinger, Ward said it’s good to have the business boost, but he doesn’t like to see customers unable to find the exact product they want.

Grand Forks isn’t the only area of North Dakota that experienced a frigid December in 2013. It was one of the coldest throughout the state, said Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota state climatologist.

For example, Fargo recorded an average temperature of 4 degrees this past December, the 11th coldest monthly average for records dating back to 1881. The coldest December there was recorded in 1886, with 0.5 below zero for an average, and followed by 1983 and 2000.

Coldest average temps

According to the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, the city experienced its fourth coldest average temperature for December in records dating back to 1890. Here are the five coldest Decembers on record:

1. 1 below zero, 1917

2. Minus 0.6, 2000

3. 0.1 above zero, 1983

4. 0.6 degrees, 2013

5. 1 degree, 1924

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