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Editorial: N.D., Minn. should tell the story that winters are no longer as hard

The banner headline "72 DIE IN STORM" now has appeared on the Herald's front page twice. The first time was March 18, 1941. The second time was Monday, when the Herald reproduced the 1941 front page in miniature as part of the paper's coverage of...

The banner headline “72 DIE IN STORM” now has appeared on the Herald’s front page twice. The first time was March 18, 1941. The second time was Monday, when the Herald reproduced the 1941 front page in miniature as part of the paper’s coverage of the storm anniversary.
The takeaway from these two appearances:
What a difference 75 years makes. And what a testament that is to a gigantic change in North Dakota and Minnesota’s fortunes.
For it’s nothing less than the End of Winter, a season that - in important ways - now is almost as inconsequential in the north country as summer is in the American South.
Once Americans got wind of the change that air conditioning brought to the South, they migrated to that region in vast numbers. Is a reverse migration possible now that winter’s hardships have been mostly tamed?
Not in the numbers that have crowded Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas and other southern cities over the past two generations, clearly. Hey, winter here is a lot easier to take than it used to be; but it’s still confining, keeping people indoors for much of the long season.
Across the South, in contrast, the outdoors beckon year round.
But Minnesota and North Dakota don’t need vast hordes of newcomers in order to prosper from responsible growth. Modest numbers would do fine - and given not only the taming of winter but also the continuing strength of the upper Midwest’s quality of life, drawing a steady influx of civic-minded new residents seems like a very achievable goal.
In its first appearance, “72 DIE IN STORM” was news. It had happened. In fact, it had happened just that week, when people across the “Northwest” were caught by surprise by the storm.
That’s the biggest change, of course: The stupendous improvements in both weather forecasting and communications, such that it would almost be unthinkable for a blizzard to surprise vast numbers of residents today.
It’s fun to mock the Weather Channel with its breathless, 24-hour coverage of floods, storms and other events. But make no mistake, all that attention makes a difference. It does so when hurricanes threaten the East Coast; the mass evacuations that result leave lots of property at risk, but save hundreds or even thousands of lives.
And it does so when blizzards bear down on the Midwest. Gates close on the freeways, schools let children out early, people stock up on bread and milk.
Then they ride out the gales in their living rooms, watching Netflix as outside, the wind and snow howl.
This change, more than any other, helps explain readers’ differing reactions to the headline’s appearances. In 1941, Herald readers looked on the news of 72 dead with both shock and resignation. Back then, at the tail end of the Depression, this was a land of not only killer blizzards, but also dust storms, grasshopper plagues and every third person being on relief.
In other words, life was hard. No, the settlers weren’t living in sod houses any more. But plenty of people still were around who had done so at one time, and who knew first-hand just how unforgiving the prairie landscape could be.
On Monday, in contrast, the headline was history. It was a museum piece from a faraway time.
And today’s readers marveled at both the way things were back then and how different they are today, which really means how unimaginable such a tragedy now seems to be.
That’s a very big change. Couple it with the huge improvements in winter clothing, central heating, snow removal and automotive performance, and you’ve got winter as a conversation piece, not a curse or a threat.
In the minds of people from outside the region, winter remains the No. 1 hurdle that prevents them from moving here. But that hurdle is a lot lower than it used to be - and every chance they can get, North Dakota and Minnesota should point that out.

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