Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame alumni discuss 1985 Polar Vortex-like temperatures

Notre Dame is rife with tradition, with so much that connects current students to those of the past. They walk many of the same paths across campus, study in the same spots and attend the same dorm events. But there is one Notre Dame staple so universal that it would be impossible to graduate without experiencing it — winter in South Bend.

Students on campus this semester were faced with some of the coldest temperatures in the region’s history. With temperatures falling below minus 20 degrees, classes were cancelled and students hunkered down in their dorms.

Students were in good company though, as they were not the first in Notre Dame’s history to experience these sorts of temperatures.

In January 1985, Notre Dame experienced extreme cold and sub-zero temperatures, similar to the 2019 cold front referred to as the “Polar Vortex.”

Cheryl Ann Blain, Notre Dame class of 1987, recalled being unprepared for her first encounter with winter in South Bend.

“I was coming from Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C.,” she said “We had some snow and winter weather, but nothing like at Notre Dame. My first year I had a down coat, a scarf, hat, gloves and all the stuff you would wear. I remember stepping outside when it was about twenty below, and even though I had all these clothes on, I remember feeling like I was naked.”

Blain was surprised to hear that Notre Dame had cancelled classes due to the weather.

“I saw that classes were going to be cancelled, and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. The University never closes.’”

The alumni also shared a few tips for staying warm during winter at Notre Dame. Class of 1987 alumna Laura Trauth said that she returned to her dorm room one day and found a quarter-inch of ice had formed on the inside of her window.

“If it got really bad, we would pull our sheets over the radiator to make a sort of tent,” Trauth said.

Ted Gradel, also from the class of 1987, had a very straightforward solution for making it through the harsh winters.

“I stayed inside,” Gradel, who resided in Morrissey Manor, said. “We had a nice game room in the basement with a foosball table. A lot of us got very good at foosball every winter. We practiced our craft pretty regularly.”

Gradel also described a tactic that some students used to keep warm on the cold walks to class.

“I got pretty good at knowing my shortcuts through the dorms on the way to class or to work out,” Gradel said. “You knew which ones you could duck into and make the most use of hallway time. I grew an appreciation for art, since it was always climate controlled in the Snite [Museum of Art]. We’d always take a walk through the Snite to warm up on our way to class.”