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Continued: Minnesotans start to bear the heat with icy resolve

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE and MARIA BACA , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Last update: July 21, 2012 - 9:45 AM

Minnesotans are famous for shrugging off the cold or stoutheartedly dealing with it. This summer, they're sharpening up a different skill: shrugging off the heat or coolly adapting to it.

Despite a steady run of temperatures in the 90s, with a couple of 100s thrown in, campers are tenting through warm nights, outdoor dining is still popular, and youth soccer players from around the world are scurrying all over the fields at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

"We haven't had any no-shows," said Brent Anderson, manager of Whitewater State Park in southeastern Minnesota, where temperatures have flirted with triple digits in recent weeks. "I have to admit, I'm a little surprised myself. Ice is the thing we can't keep up on."

This July has an outside shot at becoming the warmest on record in the Twin Cities, warmer even than July 1936, a legendary and deadly Dust Bowl year. But air conditioning gives modern Minnesotans many opportunities to escape and survive the heat -- in shopping malls, public buildings and their own homes. And, as in more southerly climates, some now find they can't get by without it, said Bob Siefert, president of Southside Heating & Air Conditioning, based in Richfield.

Repair calls increase by half in the hottest weeks of the summer, he said. Households with pregnant women, senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses get first priority. "We're like firemen," he said. "When the fire's on, we've got to run."

At the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency, Pam Schaid of home-care services said nurses have been alert to the effects of heat on elderly and ill clients, but haven't encountered any who needed to be moved out of their homes or otherwise were reported as being particularly vulnerable.

Minnesota Department of Health representatives said it's hard to say whether heat-related illnesses and fatalities are on the rise. That's partly because heat affects people in different ways, said Daniel Symonik, supervisor of the Minnesota Climate and Health Program. For example, if someone with severe asthma were to die because extreme heat aggravated the condition, that probably would be classified as an asthma death, not a heat-related one.

The department is in the middle of a study of how climate affects people's health. Part of that work has included an extreme heat tool kit, which is posted on the agency website (www.health.state.mn.us).

Carrying on

At Minnehaha Park in Minneapolis on Tuesday evening, dozens of runners training for marathons ran up and down the hill from Lock and Dam No. 1, aiming for four to seven laps, despite 91-degree heat and a 72-degree dew point. "We just adjust our pace and slow down, but we still keep going," said Sally Rubenstein, 56, of Minneapolis. "It's kind of exhausting, but it makes it easier to run in some regards because your muscles warm up much quicker and you're a little bit more flexible."

In Blaine, 14,000 youth soccer players from 22 states and 16 countries have been sweating it out during the USA Cup tournament. For 27 years, the tourney has been played during the hottest weeks of the summer. What's changed is how people approach heat and hydration, said NSC spokesman Barclay Kruse.

Players, fans and volunteers are encouraged to take refuge in the air-conditioned Schwan Center, Super Rink, or neighborhood stores and restaurants. The medical center has moved from a tent to an air-conditioned space. Games can be shortened or paused because of heat.

"There's an almost 100 percent awareness of the fact that in hot weather, people need to be hydrated, and they need to take care of themselves," Kruse said, "where 20 years ago, you had coaches telling kids, don't drink before a game."

The Twins, despite playing in weather sometimes 20 degrees hotter than it was for 28 years at the Metrodome, are continuing to draw well at Target Field. Dana Sagedahl of Minneapolis said a steady breeze made things comfortable at her seats behind first base on Tuesday night, when the game-time temperature was 86. The new stadium also offers air-conditioned shops, bars and restaurants where fans can spend time.

At Kieran's Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis, indoor seating fills up first on the very hottest days, said manager Paul Crilly. Older people, especially, seem loath to sit in the afternoon sun. But the bar's patio is still busy, and more so after the sun passes behind Target Center.

"A little later in the evening, it cools down and it becomes more comfortable," Crilly said. "It seems anywhere with a patio people will sit on it. At some point, it doesn't matter how hot it gets."

Some are taking other advantages of the cool of the evening (which sometimes is relative: the Twin Cities have had two record-high nighttime lows this month).

At Nice Ride Minnesota, executive director Bill Dossette said he's noticed that bike rentals do fall off in the afternoon, then tick upward again at night.

"It will be a hot day to ride to work in the morning, but we might see people riding at midnight," he said. "The days are long. They just ride at night."

Hot style

The enduring heat this summer has affected business at Cliché, a south Minneapolis women's clothing boutique.

"One good thing: People did buy a ton of shorts this year," said co-owner Josh Sundberg, adding that he meant stylish high-waisted shorts. "Minnesotans have finally caught on to it. More fashionable people over the years have stayed away from shorts. They've gotten a bad name from people who shouldn't wear them."

Kusum Gosain has lived in Minnesota for five years, after 14 years in Wisconsin and western Canada. But she grew up in northern India.

"I'm loving it," she said of the heat. "It reminds me of India."

She sets her air conditioning temperature at 79 degrees, which most Minnesotans would regard as "off."

"The tolerance [for heat] is a little bit low here," she said.

On the other hand, Gosain said, she's never fully adapted to cold weather.

"You never get used to the cold," she said. "It's just uncomfortable. I want to feel the summer. In January, I want to remember these days."

mcaul@startribune.com • 612-673-7646 mbaca@startribune.com • 612-673-4409

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