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What's it really like living in the coldest city in the continental U.S.?

Imagine this: you’re walking outside, it’s -30° below and there’s a cold wind blowing right in your face. Tears… slowly running down your face. Unknowingly.

As they start to freeze, your eyelashes stick together. Although, you feel… nothing. As the cold seeps through your jacket and thin pants, you go numb.

This used to be my everyday life.

Okay, okay. Maybe not that dramatic but it sure felt like it!

Real life though: my eyelashes did stick together when my mascara froze in the below freezing weather. Safe to say… my college years walking outside thought campus in the winter was not fun.

So… where exactly did I spend my childhood days?


I grew up and went to college in the coldest city in the continental United States: Grand Forks, North Dakota.

But what exactly does “continental U.S.” mean, you may be asking?

It’s all the states located in the mainland of the United States — so excluding Alaska and Hawaii.

I’m originally from East Grand Forks, Minnesota, but it’s literally right across the — small — river from Grand Forks, North Dakota. Hence, the “east” part of “East Grand Forks.”

It’s to the ~east~ of Grand Forks.

My ancestors made a really, really great decision by choosing the coldest place ON EARTH to live (exaggerating… a little but not really).

Sometimes in the winter, it gets colder here than locations in Antarctica. Super fun.

In truth, I should have escaped this cold, desolate place during my younger years after graduating high school…

But some things just kept me around. While the cold was trying to drive me away (and freeze me to death), there were a few good things keeping me here!

Like the fact I saved a ton of moooolah — aka money.

Compared to other universities in the United States, the University of North Dakota is pretty darn cheap. It’s also a great school to receive a higher education at.

Plus, I got to live at home with my parents and adorable dog for free.

So, all the money I saved went towards traveling elsewhere.

And I don’t regret it one bit.

With the money I’ve saved, I have had awesome trips to Austria, Germany (fun fact: I got food poisoning here!), Switzerland, Nashville, Portland, Banff National Park, Scotland, and more.

Also, by living here, I’ve learned I can survive pretty much anything.

When you have to walk across campus to class in -30° F (-34.4° C) temps with a nasty north wind blowing right in your face making tears unknowingly stream down your face, you learn to adapt and survive.


↑ Usually, this is my facial expression for the entire months of December, January, February and March.

And if you’re wondering if living in the coldest city of the contiguous U.S. is actually as terrible as it sounds, yes.

Yes, it is.

Walking outside for .02 seconds without proper mittens or gloves will dry out your skin faster than a walk in the desert for days.

Not kidding.

Touching a North Dakotan’s/Minnesotan’s hands (or even feet) in the winter is like touching rough sandpaper.

It’s really hard to keep skin moisturized around here.

Although, not all days are bad.

Sometimes, when the weather is really unbearable, school will be cancelled or delayed.

(But most likely not the University of North Dakota.)

They like to prepare us for the real world by having us walk (run?) to class in frostbite weather so we can understand how cold and heartless the real world is.

But as horrible as that sounds, the people around here to make it better.

The rumors are true

People in the midwest are actually really nice and “Minnesota Nice” isn’t just a made up saying that has no meaning behind it.

And if you’re wondering what “Minnesota Nice” is, here ya go. A sweet definition from Wikipedia:

“Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesotato be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered.”

And courteous we are.

It’s not unusual to have a midwest person say “sorry” to you when they aren’t actually the person who ran into whomever first. It’s hilarious.

I swear, “sorry” was like the second word everyone here learned as a baby.

Or if you run into someone from the midwest, you might hear a little ope come out of their mouth. It’s like a weird “oops” but without the “s” and with a hard “o.”

Honest to god, I find myself saying “ope” at least 20 times a day. I just can’t seem to rid myself of it. Even after traveling the world for 3 years now — it’s just one of those Midwest things that stick with ya!

We also make darn delicious food up here.

A lot of our dishes are (un)surprisingly hot foods like hot dish (casseroles), creamy soups, warm baked goods, stews, and more. We need to keep warm, ya know.

It’s almost difficult being a vegan up here because all family homemade dishes include one or all of the following: butter, cream, milk, cheese, meats, etc.

Also, most people up here are from Scandinavia (Norway & Sweden) so we have weird foods like lefse (essentially, this is delicious potato tortillas), lutefisk (a nasty, smelly pickled fish), pickled herring (another nasty fish), and Swedish meatballs.

None, of which, I can eat. Lol. Cause, ya know, veganism.

And some days, the winds will calm, the temperature will increase, and the snow will look beautiful.

Minnesota Sunrise • What's it Really Like Living in the Coldest City in the Continental U.S.? | The Wanderful Me

Though we sometimes get a sickening amount of snowfall, it’s still one of my favorite parts about living here.

The snow can be really beautiful. Especially when it’s highlighted by a gorgeous sunrise, like in the picture above.

Plus, in the winter, fashion really isn’t a big part of life in the coldest city.

Want to wear the same sweatpants and a sweatshirt a few days in a row?

No one will notice cause it’s most likely covered up by snow pants and a winter coat anyways.

Too lazy to wash your hair for a couple days and it’s getting a little *too* shiny?

No problem, just throw on a cute hat and yer good to go.

Considering I don’t really have any fashion sense and I’m lazy so I wear sweatpants most days and wash my hair every other day, this is one aspect of living here I’m all for.

It’s kinda great.

Every once in a while the weather cooperates and it’ll be above freezing (32° F/ 0° C).

This is when hope begins to blossom in the hearts of midwesterners.

We think, “Hey, it’s not so bad here! Could it be getting warmer?”

But most likely it’s not.

Although, on rare days like this, when it’s above freezing (aka 32° F or 0° C) and not the coldest city in the continental US, we bring out our light jackets, college students wear shorts, heating the house is optional, and people walk their dogs.

But when summer comes, all the hellish weather we endured was absolutely worth it.

Minnesota Summer Sunset • What's It Really Like Living in the Coldest City in the Continental U.S.? | The Wanderful Me
A stunning Minnesota summer sunset.

This is when living up here becomes actually amazing.

Summers up here are incomparable (in my personal opinion). Just look at that stunning sunset above!

It actually gets warm and the average temperature in the summer months is around 75-80° F.

The midwesterner’s skin finally sheds that rough sandpaper feel from the winter months and it’s back to being moisturized.

Some of us might even get that sun-kissed skin glow! (But quickly fades once September rolls around. *sigh*).

Need the ultimate Minnesota summer getaway? I’ve got just the thing: Destinations Along Minnesota’s North Shore

I hope you thoroughly enjoyed reading about the hell winters up here and maybe I’ve even convinced you to come visit the coldest city in the continental U.S. 😉

Just kidding. I don’t expect that whatsoever.

Unless it’s summer time… then you should absolutely visit.

Sophie xx

Read Next: Experiencing the Overwhelming Kindness and Generosity of the Thai People in Thailand

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Ever heard of Grand Forks, North Dakota? Also known as the #coldest city in the continental U.S.? Read all about what it's like living here! • What it's Really Like Living in the Coldest City in the Continental U.S.?

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