Schools, fair brace for more heat

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2012 - 7:00 AM

With expected highs in the 90s Thursday, precautions are being put in place to cope.

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Lauren Smith, 2, of Hugo, enjoyed her romp in the Mr. Bubble attraction at the State Fair, which is preparing for a hot Thursday.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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Thursday has been designated as FANtastic Day for Minneapolis Public Schools, where the objective will be to keep the air moving.

Faced with an expected high temperature of 93 degrees (after earlier projections of 100), Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson has recommended that teachers bring fans to classrooms, and staff has arranged for nearly 18,000 bottles of water to be handed out to students, first at schools without air conditioning.

With some Minnesota schools already in session, fall sports teams already competing and the State Fair steaming toward its final weekend, the forecast has triggered all manner of heat precautions -- including a wildfire alert across southeastern Minnesota, where conditions will be Arizona-like on Thursday.

Johnson alerted Minneapolis school staff in a memo to make sure students take enough water and bathroom breaks during the day, have students spend time in the shade when they're outdoors, and recognize symptoms of excessive heat exposure. Thirteen of the 56 Minneapolis public schools don't have air conditioning.

In Austin, Minn., where a 100-degree high is still predicted Thursday, the district completed a three-year effort to install air conditioning in all its schools just last Friday.

"We know that in September you can have some pretty hot days," said Superintendent Dave Krenz. "And April and May."

Classes at most of the district's schools won't start until Tuesday. For now, coaches and teachers will likewise be on the lookout for heat stress in students, but Krenz said he didn't expect any games or meets to be canceled.

Fair preparations

At the State Fair, the record for the hottest day in the event's history -- 104 degrees on Sept. 10, 1931 --appears safe. But members of marching bands in the daily parade are being directed not to wear their uniforms and instead opt for cooler clothing. For fairgoers, large misting areas will be set up should the heat index reach 100 degrees or more for three hours, and livestock will be closely monitored.

The fair will also be giving away 10,000 commemorative bandanas at information booths, with fairgoers encouraged to "dunk [the bandana] in ice water and tie it around their neck or put it on their heads to cool off," said fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette.

A cold front with northwest winds and very dry air is expected to arrive in the area Thursday afternoon, somewhat ahead of schedule. That development -- along with uncertainties created by Hurricane Isaac -- is why the metro area's forecast high has been steadily altered through the week, said National Weather Service meteorologist Lisa Schmit.

But the cold front won't reach into southern Minnesota on Thursday, and even the south metro should still see the upper 90s and perhaps even 100, Schmit said.

Dew points on Thursday are expected to be moderate, in the low 50s, even as the temperature hangs in the 90s, Schmit said.

'Red flag' warning

The dry conditions and the promise of gusty winds prompted the Weather Service to issue a "red flag" warning for southeastern Minnesota, effective for the Twin Cities into Thursday night. The warning means conditions are prime for wildfires to develop. A fire weather watch, a step below a red flag warning, was in effect Wednesday for north central Minnesota, where the dry cold front was expected to arrive Wednesday night.

Tom Hoverstad, scientist with the University of Minnesota's Southern Outreach and Research Center in Waseca, said the midweek heat snap could cause soybeans to slow down their growth in their pods, ultimately reducing crop yields. Corn's development is over, he said. Rainfall has been spotty across southern Minnesota in recent weeks, he said.

Wednesday's high of 93 in the Twin Cities was the third reading in the 90s this month -- exactly normal for the entire month of August. Through Tuesday, the month's average temperature was still running a hair below normal, though it will probably creep back above that threshold by the time August ends at midnight Friday. That would make this the 15th consecutive month with an above-normal average temperature in the Twin Cities.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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