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If this soul-sucking, skin-eating cold isn’t a state of emergency, then what is?

Nature is trying to kill us.

Nature is trying to kill us. Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

There comes a time when even Minnesotans stop messing around with winter. Wednesday’s -15-degree temperatures and -50-degree wind chills weren’t just bad. They were deadly.

Mail delivery was canceled. Minneapolis homeless shelters and warming houses expanded their hours and capacity. MetroTransit vowed not to kick off riders looking for shelter on buses as long as they remained quiet. Hennepin County ambulance crews preemptively considered all outside calls as “life threatening.”

As the polar vortex loomed, the governors of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois all declared states of emergency in advance. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers even called in the state’s National Guard to assist local emergency responders.

But Minnesota, so far, has not. Which leaves us to ponder: What exactly would it take?

“Minnesota typically does not make preparatory declarations like some states, especially those in hurricane country,” Press Secretary Teddy Tschann said in a statement. Instead, Minnesota’s state agencies “go to a heightened state of readiness” to lend local governments a hand if they should ever ask for it.

Tschann said the state’s Department of Public Safety and division of Homeland Security Management have been in touch with “local emergency managers” all over the state. So far, there haven’t been any requests to declare a red alert on this cold snap. It’s brutal, yes, but not an emergency, as far as they’re concerned.

But rest assured: “...If there were a reason to declare a state of emergency, the governor wouldn’t hesitate to do so,” he said.

In his short tenure, Walz has yet to pull that particular trigger. He told reporters on Tuesday that he briefly considered closing schools statewide, but decided against it.

“In many cases, these local officials know best,” he said. And besides -- there are children out there, he said, who won’t be warm or fed unless they can get to school.

It’s not like we never bring out the big guns. Our most recent state of emergency was just last year. Then-Governor Mark Dayton declared one for 36 counties and one tribal nation due to torrential rains, flash flooding, and tornadoes.

And we’ve declared emergencies for extreme winter conditions, too. Last April, when a surprise snowstorm blew into Minnesota, the sheriff of Rock County asked for help from the Minnesota National Guard to help get displaced youth off the streets and rescue drivers stranded on the roadsides. The “resources of the affected local and county governments” were “inadequate” to the task, a press release from Mark Dayton’s office said.

Declaring a winter emergency in Minnesota isn’t really about meeting some kind of a temperature threshold, or a certain amount of snow or ice. It’s about when the local governments finally come up against something they can’t handle. The signal to send in the troops is a distress call – not a pip on the thermometer.

In the meantime, we stay prepared, always in that “heightened state of readiness,” lest something go awry. In this state, you never know what’s too much for you to handle until, suddenly, it strikes.