The Great Plains are famous for bitter winters and long-lasting snowfalls. (I know this from experience, having worked at a museum on the Canadian prairies for seven years.) But the snow that blankets those flat stretches of land from November to March is part of what makes the region so fertile; prairie farmers worry if there isn’t enough of it. As for the arctic cold—prairie dwellers are proud of their endurance. (“There’s no nicer weather,” an Alberta-born curator told me, with perfect seriousness, “than ten or fifteen degrees below zero with the sun shining.”) Even by these standards, the winter of 1997 was fierce, marked by record blizzards and brutal cold, especially in Manitoba and North Dakota. And that spring, swollen by the winter’s larger than normal accumulation, the region’s Red River rose to unprecedented levels in a vast area from Fargo to Winnipeg and beyond.

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