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Postal workers weathering winter

Dave Cieniawski, a carrier at the Alexandria post office, makes his delivery rounds while carving through the alleys of snow. (Ari Leuthner / Echo Press) 1 / 4
These mailboxes and newspaper tubes along Lake Street in Osakis are enveloped by a snowbank in this photo submitted by Tim Peterson. (Contributed)2 / 4
A Glenwood resident made use of a large snowbank to provide assistance for a mail carrier. (Linda Jenson / Echo Press)3 / 4
High mounds of snow can present challenges for mail carriers this winter. (Ari Leuthner / Echo Press)4 / 4

Winter is never a surprise in Alexandria, but as it drags on, we may often want to forget about this one. The harsh reality was that the lowest recorded temperatures even stopped the U.S. mail.

"We've had people that have worked here for 40 years and they can only remember it shutting down once ever, so it's a pretty rare occasion," said Alexandria Postmaster Josiah Swanson.

The post office was still open on Jan. 30 but it suspended delivery as to not put any carriers at risk due to wind chills exceeding negative 50 below.

This winter struck Alexandria with extreme sub-zero temperatures and record amounts of snow. To prepare the carriers for the elements, they are provided with all the necessary items to keep warm, such as coats, boots and hand warmers. When temperatures get severe they might add an extra layer of clothing, and they are also provided with ice grippers that they can put on over their boots.

With all the layers provided by the post office, Dave Cieniawski, a carrier at the Alexandria post office, finds himself to be perfectly comfortable in the elements.

"I don't get cold, I really don't," he said. "I might be different than most, but I love the temperature. It's the snow and ice I don't like."

There has been plenty of that this year, too, with the latest snowstorm dropping 10 inches or more on the area over the weekend.

Excess snow and ice building on stairs and sidewalks can result in carriers slipping, tripping or falling. On occasion, carriers have to decide if it is safe to deliver to a house that has accumulated excess amounts of snow and ice. They do make an effort to ensure every delivery, Swanson said, but it becomes situational once they get out there.

Each route is different, Cieniawski said. Carriers who deliver mail on foot can walk between 4-12 miles depending on their route. When sidewalks and door steps have been shoveled and salted, it helps to make his route more accessible.

"Some people plow a path between houses, and that is an exceptional help. It really, really helps out," says Cieniawski.

Never-ending winters and extreme temperatures are what Minnesotans expect, but for those who come here from other states, this might be a different experience.

"We have a new guy from California, so it's his first Minnesota winter. It's a learning experience but we provide the tools and training for him to be successful. He seems to like it," Swanson said.

The many months of snow, getting stuck, scraping ice and clearing paths have taught everyone perseverance, and also brought out the best in many people by looking out for others.

"A big thank you to the people who have been keeping up with the shoveling," Cieniawski said. "It has been a tough year for it but it has been so helpful to us."


Spring advice

Though winter appears intent on sticking around, there is a desire for the snow to begin to melt. And as it will, it should also be mentioned that while temperatures may be above freezing during the day, they can also dive back below freezing at night. This makes for an invisible layer of ice to form over the stairs and sidewalks.

Alexandria Postmaster Josiah Swanson notes that people often enter their homes through the back door, and might only use the front door to grab the mail. It is helpful to check on areas around the front door where water might form and freeze, and where mail carriers cut through yards, such as near drain spouts, and to keep those areas salted.

There are still mountains of snow piled high throughout the city, but the runoff water that is beginning to collect is a sign of spring and increasing temperatures. Dave Cieniawski, a U.S. Postal Service carrier in Alexandria, offered another note.

"We get acclimated pretty quick, so when it comes to be 50 degrees, don't be surprised to see some of us wearing shorts," he said.