The Coldest Case

When we were looking to name our new rye IPA in 2018, we wanted it to have a sense of place. Given that it was coming out in the dead of a Minnesota winter, we settled on naming it after the record low temperature for Surly’s state of birth.

We had no idea just how controversial 60 Below was.

We should note here that the beer itself is not controversial—it’s goddamn delicious, can be found exclusively in our variety Thaw Packs, and is available to all Surly markets. The name is a whole other deal, and it introduced us to a rivalry on par with Hatfields/McCoys, Hamilton/Burr, or at least Roth/Hagar.

The city of Tower is the official record holder for Minnesota’s lowest low (give or take various Vikings playoff losses), hitting 60 below on February 2, 1996. A mere 14 miles away, however, the unofficial record holder wants the world to know what’s colder than cold.

The city of Embarrass is no stranger to “coldest spot in the nation” weather reports. It even calls itself “The Cold Spot“. Per Jack Lamar, the current weather observer for the area, this is because of the Laurentian Divide (where the continent splits between north and south-flowing rivers) and the Embarrass River.

“Warm air rises and cold air sinks. So, cold air creeping down from Canada, like fog in a coastal area, backs up against Aurora Mountain, which isn’t really a mountain but is the Laurentian Divide. It then pools and settles in low areas like rivers, streams and bogs. That would be Embarrass.”

As noted by the Star Tribune’s John Reinan, the tiny community may rightfully lay claim to the dubious honor. Retired Embarrass weather observer Roland Fowler recorded temperatures as low as 64 below on the night of February 2nd, the same night Tower bottomed out. The problem? None of them were on Fowler’s official National Weather Service (NWS) thermometer—the cold that night literally broke it.

Fowler is not the only one who claims the record should be colder. Per KSTP, Richard Watson slept outside in Embarrass that night (using two sleeping bags and a snorkel for fresh air, WHICH WE DON’T EVEN DO AT DARKNESS DAY, RICHARD) to capture a potential record temperature. He claims it got as low as 72 below. He captured a reading of -64 on his thermometer, but that was also on an unofficial device.

Thus, Tower holds the record.

It’s hard to dispute the NWS’s reasoning here. Anyone can call in a temperature, and it’s unreasonable to expect the government to fund a Weather Service Fraud Squad that deploys whenever it gets super cold up by Ely. To paraphrase a great American, the NWS can’t be the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules.

That said, why on earth would anyone make up something this miserable? The town is already named Embarrass. The added hurdle of it once being so cold that thermometers tapped out? There’s no Chamber of Commerce in the state ready for that challenge. Even Nimrod, which is called Nimrod and has a population of 69.

And yet.

Minnesota’s small towns embrace the things that make them unique. We have giant prairie chickens and balls of twine and corn cobs. There are signs on the way into town recognizing the one time the high school volleyball team made state, or the minor celebrity that was born there. When not much happens, the thing that does happen really *happens*. Tower should be proud of its record. Embarrass should be fighting for an asterisk. What else are you going to do?

The next time you’re up north (and we mean north, not Blaine), and you find yourself in one of these towns, our advice is to spend some money there and just nod if someone brings up the coldest day ever in Minnesota. They can both be right.


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