By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – If it hasn’t been cold enough for you the past couple of days, a trip up north might be in order.
Bone-chilling arctic air dropped Northeast Mississippi temperatures into the single digits, but Tupelo residents Bill and Carol Ledbetter, formerly of St. Paul, Minn., weren’t worried.
“This is a nuisance,” said Carol Ledbetter, 67. “It’s the kind of weather where you say, ‘We’re Minnesotans. We can handle it.’”
On Feb. 3, 1996, a frigid weather event convinced the governor to close all the schools. Bill Ledbetter, 72, drove about a mile north of his house to photograph an electronic sign with a minus 32 degree temperature reading.
“I left the van running, and I walked around to the passenger side. I couldn’t get the focus because of my gloves, so I took one off,” he said. “That was a minute or so, and I felt it.”
Mark Vavruska, 47, of Tupelo, grew up on a farm in South Dakota, where temperatures went down and stayed down, while 10 to 20 mph winds blew.
“We would have one to two weeks where it would never get above zero,” he said.
There was no question of staying in bed under warm sheets.
“The big thing was going out and taking care of your livestock,” he said. “They couldn’t get out of the weather. At least you could go warm up.”
Vavruska recalls wearing four or five layers of clothes, covering up everything but his eyes.
On that same day in 1996 when Bill Ledbetter took his photograph, the temperature gauge bottomed out at minus 60 in Ely, Minn., in the northeast of the state.
A radio personality went out in Ely’s extremes that day, but he didn’t cover his nose and mouth. His chest was hurting the following Monday, as Bill Ledbetter listened on the radio.
“The doctor told him, ‘You killed a lot of lung tissue, just like you’ve been smoking 40 years,’” he said.
When drivers lose their way in blizzard conditions, they’re advised to stay in their vehicles, unless they can see a destination.
“It’s so easy to get disoriented,” Bill Ledbetter said.
Carol Ledbetter still has her car’s emergency box that includes extra gloves and ear protection, as well as a candle, matches and a pan for melting snow.
“I used to have candy bars and granola bars in there,” she said.
Snow plows are necessities in the frozen north. South Dakota highway department employees like Vavruska’s dad were responsible for finding stuck cars and pulling them out of snow drifts and ditches.
Vavruska said he’s more worried about driving in Mississippi than South Dakota in winter.
“For me, if it’s snowy or it’s icy, I don’t get out on the road,” he said, “because I don’t trust other people on the road.”