Yes, it really is October

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 5, 2011 - 6:46 AM

The warm weather has officials worried about fire danger.

The calendar says it's fall but this week's balmy, above-normal temperatures are keeping Minnesotans in summer shorts.

"It's just a gift," said Saebra Halliday, who strolled across the Stone Arch Bridge in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday evening with her 3-year-old daughter, Olivia Muehlstedt. She and her mom soaked in the view of St. Anthony Falls and the expanse of river bluffs that are beginning to show autumn's golds and reds. "This is just stunning," Halliday said.

Tuesday's high of 84 degrees shot past the normal high of 64 but fell short of the 89-degree record set in 1922. The 80-degree, summer-like temperatures are expected to continue through at least Thursday, said Pete Boulay, assistant climatologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Today's record high of 86 could fall.

While the hot, dry, windy conditions have officials concerned about fires, many Minnesotans reveled in a summertime overtime as runners, walkers, bikers and skaters took to the trails.

"You have to take advantage of this while you can," said Meghan McCue, who stopped to adjust her inline skates while Roofus, her yellow Lab, waited patiently.

"I'm trying to appreciate this because come February, you're going to wish you had these days back."

Last year, Twin Cities residents also basked in balmy October temperatures that hit 80 degrees or higher four times, including an 87-degree day on Oct. 8. But don't get the idea that October is the new August. Two years ago, Twin Cities residents were bundled up when the high on Oct. 12 hit only 36 degrees and 2.5 inches of snow fell.

"October is a transitional month," Boulay said.

But for the moment, it's boom time for ice cream truck vendor Mike Schmitt. "It was a very bad spring," he said. "I'm trying to take advantage of this. I'm a little concerned about whether this is about climate change. But for business, this is good."

The hot, dry, windy weather, however does have its downside. Northern and southern Minnesota are in a drought, which is creeping closer to the Twin Cities.

"We had the driest September in the Twin Cities since 1882," Boulay said. "We would like to get some precipitation to recharge the soil before the freeze-up, otherwise we'll be at a deficit next spring."

A swath of western and southwestern Minnesota was put under a "red flag warning" on Tuesday, meaning that dry and windy conditions are threatening to spark wildfires. And in northern Minnesota, firefighters trying to contain the Pagami Creek fire were bringing in extra aircraft Wednesday as more spot fires were popping up as winds picked up and the dry, hot weather settled in.

"It's a mixed blessing," said Dave Schmitt, a public information officer for those fighting the northern Minnesota fire. He said that the good news is that smoldering fires that went unnoticed are being sparked and firefighters are putting them out.

If left undetected, he added, some of those deep smoldering fires could burn all winter only to be reignited in the spring.

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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