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    Warmth on Cold Snowy Days

As a life-long Minnesotan, I look forward to winter. No, I don’t like bitter, below zero temperatures, and I am definitely not a fan of shoveling anything more than a couple inches of snow. However, I do enjoy other aspects of the season -- going cross country skiing, seeing snow on the branches of the evergreen trees, watching children and dogs romp in freshly fallen snow and sitting in a warm location, drinking a hot chocolate (or a mocha) and watching big, fat, lazy snowflakes fall to the ground.

When I talk to people from outside the Midwest about what a nice place this is to live in the winter, I'm usually met with a fair amount of skepticism.  They have heard the stories in the news about bitter cold, below zero temperatures with even colder wind chills. They have seen pictures of thermometers located in International Falls, Minn., the Icebox of the Nation, at -35 below (and that’s not the wind chill). They have heard stories about blizzards that can bring a city to a standstill. They have seen the pictures online of cars almost completely buried by snowplows on the streets and cars and trucks stuck in the ditches. And, they have watched countless videos clips on TV of people walking (or more likely waddling like a penguin) from their parking spots to their places of employment that were so bundled up that only their eyes were visible.

Yes, this is what Minnesota can be like during the winter. But it’s not the norm. Below zero temps for the daily high typically last for a few days, if we have them. Blizzards and snowfalls of over a foot in the area are rare. In fact, there have been winters, where we didn’t get our first snowfall until February and our first 3 inch snowfall until March. Unfortunately, December 2009 seems to be one of those strange and unusual winters when it comes to snowstorms; one probably headed for the record book.

One of the things I like about living in Minnesota in the winter is the way we all come together and help each other. Early in December 2009, Rochester (along with other areas of the upper Midwest) had a major snow storm. It was a blizzard, actually. By the time it was over, we had over 12 inches of snow (some areas up to 16 inches). In addition, strong winds left deep snow drifts in open areas. Even for a hardy Minnesotan like me, that’s a lot of snow. While it was going on and in the aftermath I found myself wondering: why do I live here? Then I remembered why.

Big winter storms bring out the best in people. After the storm was over, I saw first hand and heard of numerous examples of kindness shown to others. There were people who helped their neighbors remove the snow from their sidewalks and driveways. There were people who helped push the cars of complete strangers out of snow banks. There were people who offered an unsteady person next to them an arm to hold on to when the going got slippery. And, on my overly crowded bus that had far too many people standing in the aisle, I witnessed a young (20-something?) gentleman graciously give up his seat to an appreciative older individual carrying what appeared to be a heavy backpack and who was working hard to not fall every time the bus came to a stop and started up again.

The kindness and best in people could also be seen on the Mayo Clinic campus. Here at Mayo we talk a lot about teamwork and putting the needs of our patients first. But these aren’t just words to Mayo employees; they are a way of life. Everyday, Mayo Clinic employees live out our mission and value, and the Blizzard of December 2009 did not change that. There were employees who stayed past their work shift to care for patients because colleagues were unable to make it in to work. There were employees who, thanks to their four-wheel drive vehicles, picked up colleagues unable to make it in with their own transportation. There were employees who invited colleagues from out of town (and who couldn’t make it home) to spend the night in their homes. And, there were people who volunteered to take on the responsibilities and job duties of snowed-in colleagues.

To me, no matter how bad the weather gets in the winter, it always feels warm in Minnesota and here at the Mayo Clinic.

This article was submitted by Barb Sorensen, a communications consultant in Public Affairs at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

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