Heat wave bakes Minnesota; State Fair attendance way down

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE and STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: August 28, 2013 - 9:54 AM

Fair attendance is way down from last year; students are already weary of trying to study in stifling classrooms.

Day Three of a sweltering heat wave took a toll across the Twin Cities on Tuesday, testing everyone’s ability to stay cool and keep their cool and even keeping people away from the Minnesota State Fair.

After two days of record-breaking heat, the temp reached 96 Tuesday, three degrees shy of the record. Little relief is in sight, with temps in the low and mid-90s expected through the end of the week.

Frustration mounted at schools without air conditioning, such as north Minneapolis’ Patrick Henry High School, where students said the heat is making it hard to study. It’s one of 18 Minneapolis public schools without air conditioning; 11 are partly cooled.

Senior Francisco Velez said it’s hard to concentrate, and only one of his seven classrooms had fans, forcing students to fan themselves with folders to keep a breeze going. But fans also create noise and disputes among students about where to direct the breeze, senior Todd Riser said.

“A lot of kids are drowsy and don’t want to talk as much,” Riser said at a news conference after school to call attention to the hot classrooms. “They’re quieter.”

The heat apparently kept people away from the fair. Monday’s fair attendance numbers, released Tuesday afternoon, showed a dramatic drop in attendance over last year. Numbers were down Sunday as well.

But Twin Cities residents seemed to have found ways to adjust to their suddenly tropical climate. They were drinking lots of water (and more water). They were wearing lighter clothes. They were simply moving less. And they were living, working and playing in it.

Hot days = longer days

Movers Sean Erickson, Lomas Matadeen and Ron Erickson had each soaked through a T-shirt while loading a van under the noon sun along S. 2nd Street in Minneapolis.

Their strategies for getting through the day? Drink lots of water. Slow down. And take a break every hour instead of every two. It might make the day longer, but it makes the next day easier, Matadeen said.

And don’t make anyone work just inside the stifling hot van, Sean Erickson noted.

“There’s no other weather like this that’s as dangerous to be working in,” Ron Erickson said.

Closing early

Tuesday was the third day in a row that Kopplin’s Coffee in St. Paul closed early due to the heat. Barista Patrick Phalen said the building on Marshall Avenue was air-conditioned, but Phalen’s brow was beaded with sweat despite a terry-cloth headband and neckerchief that had been iced in the freezer.

The early closing might cost some business, Phalen said, but it was better than having employees suffer.

How does he get himself ready to work around an espresso machine (“the war zone,” Phalen called it) during a heat wave?

“Deodorant and lots of water,” he said.

Running hot

Football practice at Farview Park in north Minneapolis was canceled because of the heat, but Jordan Watts, 11, and his brother, Brandon, 13, plus Savion Reeves, 11, and Damon “DJ” Young, 11, wanted a workout.

Enter Domonique Gilmer, a teacher at Ramsey Middle School in St. Paul, who has been running the hill at Farview since high school. The hill, he said, made him fast.

As the sun slipped lower in the sky, Gilmer, 25, pumped his arms and dug into the hill, sending puffs of dirt into the air with each step of his fluorescent orange track shoes.

He had briefly thought about staying home, where the air conditioner ran. But, “in 14 weeks, it’s going to be snowing,” he said. “This is my chance. No excuses. You got to enjoy this.”

As Gilmer pushed to the pine tree at the top, the four boys trailed behind, pumping, grimacing, bending over to catch a breath.

“Running this hill is going to make me a better football player,” Reeves said, looking down as sweat trickled down his bare, skinny chest. “That’s what my coach tells me. I wanted to stop, but then I saw [Gilmer] go and I had to go. I wanted to show him that we can do it just like a grown-up.”

And then from somewhere across the park someone called out to Reeves and then the others. It was time to go home, leaving Gilmer to pound up the hill 10 more times, alone.

Getting used to it?

Chad Stuart, safety training manager for Q3 Contracting, said his company was making sure there was 1 quart of water per hour for each of about a dozen workers replacing a steel gas line on St. Paul’s Arlington Avenue. Electrolyte replacement tablets were also available, Stuart said.

Employees go through heat stress training and there are daily hazard assessment meetings where weather is discussed, he said. Jeffrey Hill, a foreman for the company, said workers take breaks whenever needed and look out for one another.

“Bottom line, it’s knowing your own body, knowing what you can do,” Hill said. During the heat wave, employees are also working shorter hours, he said.

Manning the fryers

The mini-doughnuts cooked and served hot in baggies at Tiny Tim’s Donuts at the State Fair kept the heat on six stand servers, even with all five fans going.

“We don’t sell drinks, so we had to run to Cub and buy cases of water. We’ve got everybody chugging,” stand manager Dan Hable said.

Hable, 29, of Taylors Falls, rotated his six-member crew so “nobody is in here more than two hours at a time.” The staff took rotating half-hour breaks.

No workers had problems, but Hable said he had to call 911 about a fairgoer who had heat issues behind his stand. An ambulance took the person to the medical building.

“I’ve seen more ambulances going by than I ever have” in 10 years working at the fair, Hable said.

Dining out

Eating their frozen yogurt outside Menchie’s on St. Paul’s Cleveland Avenue was OK with Steve Prast and his daughter Ella on Tuesday afternoon. First, all the tables inside were taken. But it tasted that much more refreshing in the 92-degree heat, Steve Prast noted.

The late-August heat struck them both as strange.

“School reminds me of cool weather,” Ella said. “I’m actually looking forward to winter. But I’m a little confused. Maybe I should actually enjoy this hot weather now instead of wishing it were here when it’s snowing.”

Staff writers Nicole Norfleet, Jeremy Olson, Mary Lynn Smith and Jim Adams contributed to this report. Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646 Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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  • A student hung his head out a window at Patrick Henry High School.

  • A student hung his head out a window at Patrick Henry High School Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013](DAVID JOLES/STARTRIBUNE) djoles@startribune.com Minneapolis and area school students suffered through yet another day of brutal heat, many without the benefit of air conditioning. A protest of the hot learning conditions and press conference was held at Patrick Henry High School, following classes Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 organized by the Minneapolis teachers union and Neighborhoods organizing for Change. A few students spoke, including senior Todd Riser who said he heard a chemistry teacher exclaim it had reached more than 100 degrees in his room.

  • Patrick Henry senior Todd Riser said students on Tuesday were too drowsy to participate in overheated classrooms.

  • Seeking fresh air, a student hung his head out a window at Patrick Henry High School in north Minneapolis on Tuesday. Some classrooms don’t even have fans.

  • Domonique Gilmer, 25, powered up the hill at Farview Park in north Minneapolis on Tuesday evening in search of stronger, faster legs. After 20 sprints up the 150-meter hill, Gilmer headed home for a hot shower. “In 14 weeks it’s going to be snowing. This is my chance,” he said.

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