Heat relief is coming, but too late for some

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE and MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 21, 2011 - 9:57 AM

A five-day heat wave comes to a close, but not after wreaking havoc across the state.

One of the most intense heat waves in recent years loosened its grip on Minnesota on Wednesday, but not without costing farmers thousands of cattle, turkeys and hogs.

The five-day siege of heat brought record dew points, heat indexes and overnight temperatures to the Twin Cities and elsewhere across Minnesota.

The stress on farm animals caused a die-off worse than some growers have seen in nearly 30 years, said Byron Hogberg, Farm Services Administration director in Renville County in southwestern Minnesota. The greatest number of losses may be in turkeys.

"There's a lot of dollars out there that have been lost," said Hogberg, adding that carcass processors in the area have run out of capacity to take more dead animals.

The losses are badly timed for cattle producers, given that prices are currently $1,000 to $2,000 per cow, 25 percent to 30 percent higher than a year ago.

The highest temperature of the heat wave in the Twin Cities was recorded Monday, when the official reading hit 98 degrees; it reached 96 on Wednesday. The "feels- awful" measurements -- a dew point of 82 Tuesday and heat indexes approaching 120 -- masked the fact that not one daytime high temperature record was broken, and in the Twin Cities the temperature never reached 100. The high humidity actually served to suppress soaring temperatures, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Franks said.

But it was miserable nonetheless.

"Demoralizing and overwhelming" was how Wendell Roy of Minneapolis described the heat wave while waiting in 95-degree sun for a light-rail train at the Metrodome station on Wednesday.

Relief in the form of a cold front finally flowed across the Dakotas toward Minnesota late Wednesday.

Twin Cities commuters will encounter a 7 a.m. temperature of 70, and the dew point is expected to drop to a relatively crisp 59 by 3 p.m. -- the first time the dew point will have been below 60 since 10 a.m. July 14. The high Thursday is expected to be 87, about four degrees above normal.

"Pretty near perfect," Roy said of the forecast, noting his plans to go camping this weekend.

The last smear of heat Wednesday prompted 12 people to visit Hennepin County Medical Center for heat-related problems, more than on any day during the heat wave. Four were admitted for further treatment, most likely because of chronic conditions made worse by the heat, according to hospital officials.

But only five people made heat-related calls to 311, the city of Minneapolis' all-purpose information line, compared with 20 Tuesday, said Pam Blixt, preparedness manager for the city's Health Department.

The city had urged residents to visit the air-conditioned libraries, along with parks, museums and malls, as a way to get out of the heat for a while. At the Central Library, children in shorts, sundresses and bulbous headphones pecked away at computers or browsed among books and movies.

Lisa Kamish, of Minneapolis, monitored her 3-year-old twins, Ava and Alexander, as they played "Sesame Street" video games at kid-size tables.

She said she and her kids go to the library on cold winter days, so it seemed the right choice on a day that probably was too hot even for the water park.

"When it's five or six days like this, it's hard to find stuff to do," she said. "The library is a good resource for children in heat, and I don't think a lot of people are aware of the good children's center here."

The city also provided portable drinking fountains on Nicollet Mall so people watching the Aquatennial's Torchlight Parade on Wednesday night's could fend off dehydration. But a scheduled 5-kilometer foot race was postponed and will be rescheduled, spokeswoman KJ Leinberger said.

As of dinnertime Wednesday, about 750 Xcel Energy customers were without power in the seven-county metro area, Xcel Energy spokesman Tom Hoen said. They were scattered all over the region, and as many as 80 work crews were attempting to replace fuses and repair failed cables as quickly as possible. Hoen noted, however, that the workers also were dealing with the heat and humidity (and full working gear). "It's not conducive to working quickly," he said.

On the farm, losses have been worse than might be expected, particularly to turkeys, given that the heat wave has been so sustained and temperatures have remained so high at night, said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. Olson said he has heard of one grower in southwestern Minnesota who lost 45,000 birds, which are worth $10 to $25 a piece.

Cattle and hog farmers have been sprinkling their animals heavily in recent days to reduce heat stress, spokesmen for those grower groups said.

Across South Dakota, up to 1,500 head of cattle died from the heat.

Staff writer Maria Baca contributed to this report. mcaul@startribune.com • 612-673-7646 mike.hughlett@startribune.com • 612-673-7003

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