The Winter of 2019 and Memories of Fuel Conservation
Mitchell county, Iowa
On February 8, 2019 the temperature in much of Mitchell County, at noon, was one degree below zero, but with the winds blowing ten to twenty miles per hour, the felt temperature, the wind chill, was 20 to 25 degrees below zero. This was not the coldest of the Arctic air visiting the county this winter. On January 31 the temperature itself was -29. The extreme frigid air got the attention of newspapers on the east coast. On January 30, The Washington Post reported that “power outages roiled swaths of Wisconsin and Iowa, plunging thousands into a brief unheated darkness.”
Frightening as brief power outages were in the extreme cold of the Midwest in 2019, they could have been far worse. Maybe in its collective commonsense customers conserved their use of heat as some power companies requested.
Past Mitchell County residents had experience of fuel conservation, not in the cold but in the coal strike of 1919. Although a challenge for adults, Katherine Twomey, a child at the time, remembers the conservation efforts as a series of adventures with some positive consequences. Osage, at the time, had two school buildings, a high school and a grade school. The grade school being newer, the school board chose to keep that building open but closed the high school building. Grade schoolers used the classrooms from 8:30-12:30 and high schoolers from 12:45-4:45. “The board picked the newer grade school for the combined use, perhaps on the theory that it would be easier for older students to jack-knife themselves into grade school seats than for the younger ones to occupy high school seats. The high school teachers simply had to ignore feet in the aisles and step carefully when moving about a classroom.”
“Weekends, too, were interesting. The churches consolidated their services to avoid heating so many buildings on Sunday. Young people who had gone their separate Sabbath ways all their lives found themselves in the same Sunday School class. Ministers gazed from their pulpits over well-filled pews, sometimes supplemented by additional chairs brought in from the Sunday School rooms to accommodate the overflow. It was fun for churchgoers to compare notes on pastors, organists, and choirs.” Unnecessary meetings were discouraged; businesses shortened hours. The conservation measures lasted only several months. When the cold of January appeared, the shortage had eased.
Sources: on line: National Weather Service-La Crosse, WI; Katie Mettler, Alex Horton, Amy B. Wang, and Angela Fritz, “Polar Vortex Grips the Midwest in a Deep and Dangerous Freeze, Washington Post, 30 January 2019; SHSI: Katherine Twomey, Heartland Heritage, Vermillion SD, 1992.