Heard on the Hill

North Dakota Senator Isn’t Closing Office — or Wearing a Coat — for Any D.C. Weather

‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes,’ Heidi Heitkamp says

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., talks about cold weather back home in North Dakota outside her Washington office in a freezing wind. (Bian Elkhatib/ CQ Roll Call)

North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp recalled her first D.C. winter.

“‘Are you kidding?’ That’s what I kept thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’” she said, standing outside her Hart Senate Office Building Thursday, coatless and holding an iced coffee in 25 degree-weather and an icy wind.

“I was born and raised in North Dakota,” she said. “We have four wonderful seasons there, we appreciate every one. We say in North Dakota, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.’”

Heitkamp first came to Washington in 2013, and her Capitol Hill office has never closed due to snow. Because that’s how they do it in North Dakota.

Cold Weather Doesn’t Bother Heitkamp

“People in North Dakota expect us to show up, and if you said, ‘Look out [at the snow], we’re not going to open the office today’ people in North Dakota would go, ‘Really? Are you kidding me?’ And so the expectation is that we work the way they work, which is when the weather’s bad, they don’t care,” she said.

Her office has shown off on social media how tough North Dakotans are.

“Here’s a farmer out working in twenty degrees below zero with the cattle. This is a postal mail carrier who’s delivering mail in this kind of weather,” Heitkamp described. “There’s so many people in North Dakota who work very, very hard and work in really extreme conditions and we want to be as hardy as they are.”

The worst winter in North Dakota that she remembers was 1997.

Her brother, Joel Heitkamp, was serving in the state legislature at the time and was snowed in with her in their parents’ house in Mandan for three days.  

“My parents still have pictures of the ’97 snowstorm... you could walk up the snow bank and get on the roof of houses — Really, really very severe,” she said.

Heitkamp wishes North Dakota had some more snow this winter.

“One thing that the really extreme cold weather does is dehydrate everything. It really sucks the moisture out and we experienced a very severe drought last year and we’re hoping that we get more moisture this spring. That would be nice to get a little snow cover there to protect the soil,” she said.

It takes North Dakota weather for her to put a coat on.

“I have a rule and I started this a couple years ago that unless it’s below zero, I really don’t wear a winter coat,” she said. “Unless I’m going out for a walk… but if I’m just running in and out, all I end up doing is leaving it behind because I don’t remember to take it.”

While she’s so used to the cold, she finds D.C. summers brutal.

“When it’s really hot out, I look at [the Capitol Police] and say, ‘Oh my God, how do you live here?’” she said. “I remember walking out of my house in June or July and it was 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity and it was only 9 o’clock in the morning and I thought, ‘Who lives here?’”

“I thought, ‘Is what people think when they’re walking out in North Dakota — who lives in that?’ But it’s all a matter of what you’re used to.”

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