Despite arctic winter, cold-related deaths down in Minnesota

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The record-breaking cold weather contributed to at least 26 deaths this winter, but it's far from the deadliest winter Minnesota has seen, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

The number of deaths due to the exposure to cold between Dec. 1, 2013 and the end of February is about average compared to the last five years, the Star Tribune says. Alcohol or drugs also played a role in about half of the 26 deaths this season.

Last year, 41 people died despite much milder temperatures. The winter of 2011-12 saw 13 deaths, in 2010-11 there were 24 deaths and in 2009-10 there were 31 deaths, the newspaper reports.

Some of the higher-profile cases of cold-related deaths this season include: A 32-year-old Lakeville woman was found steps from the front door of her family's home in January. A University of Minnesota student from Orono died from hypothermia after being found along the Mississippi River on Dec. 15. In February, a 6-year-old girl was found near the entry to an apartment building in Bemidji.

Officials don't have any firm idea why the numbers were lower this year compared to previous more mild winters, according to the Star Tribune. Some speculate there was more publicity about cold fronts coming into the state or the bitter-cold conditions made waterways safer so fewer people died – the Department of Health includes falling through the ice as cold-related deaths, the newspaper says.

Dr. Nathaniel Scott of Hennepin County Medical Center said more people were treated for frostbite this year compared to previous years, the newspaper reported. Animals also suffered from frostbite this winter.

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