Nice, REALLY nice, while it lasts

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2011 - 12:22 PM
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Grace Gu, a visiting Chinese scholar teaching at Bemidji State University, took advantage of the weather to practice Tai Ji outdoors.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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A six-day run of October days with highs in the 80s -- the longest such streak in 58 years in the Twin Cities -- is expected to end soon but gently.

Gray skies and possibly showers Saturday through Monday will knock the predicted highs into the low 70s and 60s through the weekend, where they should remain through next week. Highs near 60 are still normal for mid-October, however.

While Twin Cities residents are soaking up the extra days of summer-like weather, crews up north are battling fires that have been fueled by the run of hot, dry weather and whipped up by winds. Gov. Mark Dayton ordered the Minnesota National Guard to help battle a growing wildfire in northwestern Minnesota. The fire, near Greenbush, has charred 48 square miles in an area that is mostly brush and grasslands, with very little cropland.

In northeastern Minnesota, firefighters battling the Pagami Creek fire for more than a month were forced on Thursday to tend to numerous hot spots that were small and undetected until the winds fanned them, spokesman Carson Berglund said. The wind is expected to pick up Friday throughout the day and into the night, "raising some concerns," he said.

Wednesday's record high of 88 in the Twin Cities made it the warmest October day since 1997. The last time the Twin Cities had an October with six highs of 80 or greater, not necessarily in a row, was 2006. But before that it hadn't happened since 1953.

The persistent warmth has been due to a blocking formation in the atmosphere, keeping weather systems locked in place across North America. That has allowed warm, dry air to flow from south to north into the Upper Midwest, while rain has persisted in the upper Rocky Mountains, said James McQuirter, forecaster with the Twin Cities office of the National Weather Service.

The dry air and the expectation of winds gusting to 40 miles per hour across much of the state Friday prompted the National Weather Service to issue a fire weather watch posted over virtually all of Minnesota until Friday night. State and federal officials Thursday banned campfires in campgrounds statewide.

Relative humidities across Minnesota on Wednesday were desert-dry -- as low as 6 percent in Madison, Minn. Assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay noted that was even lower than readings recorded when a massive wildfire burned across the Carlos Avery Wildlife Refuge in the northern metro area on Oct. 19, 2000.

The Twin Cities and several other locations across the southern half of the state had their driest September on record. This week's U.S. Drought Monitor labeled a large patch of southwestern Minnesota and much of the Arrowhead as being in severe drought. For much of southern Minnesota, the past 10 weeks have been among the driest on record.

Across the Midwest, farmers have begun harvesting crops amid the dry conditions, sparking fires across thousands of acres of pasture and cropland. The National Weather Service has issued "red flag warnings" for firefighters and land management agents in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, western Missouri, eastern Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Staff writer Mary Lynn Smith and the Associated Press contributed to this report. mcaul@startribune.com • 612-673-7646

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