Dangerous heat expected through July 4; storm claims fisherman's lifeby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Weather forecasters say there will be dangerously high temperatures across central and southern Minnesota and west central Wisconsin through the Fourth of July holiday.
Air temperatures are expected to approach records, and the heat index could near 110 degrees in some areas.
Meanwhile, the thermometer climbed to a record 98 degrees at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Monday afternoon, topping the old record of 96 degrees set in 1911.
Along with the heat came severe storms. The most recent came through the Twin Cities shortly after 3 a.m., bringing with them wind gusts up to 56 m.p.h., a report of nearly 1 inch hail near Princeton, and street flooding in Anoka County.
There were also reports of funnel clouds in Elk River and Big Lake after 2 a.m. although no touchdowns were reported.
The storm brought down tree branches and knocked out power around the Twin Cities as well. Xcel Energy initially reported 13,000 people without power. That includes about 1,700 customers in Richfield and another 1,500 in St. Paul.
A series of storms Monday evening brought winds up to 80 m.p.h. across northern Minnesota, knocking out power and even phone service in Bemidji.
Authorities issued an advisory for the area, asking people not to travel unless necessary. A gauge on the Blatnik Bridge in Duluth measured a 55 m.p.h. gust there about 9:30 p.m. Monday.
In southern Beltrami County and in Itasca county, fallen trees caused widespread power outages. Bemidji police chief Mike Mastin said the lights are coming back on slowly.
"At this point, approximately 60 percent of the city is back up on power. Officers worked throughout the night to enforce an emergency curfew, which was in place from 11 PM to 6 AM. Residents are encouraged to take all storm debris, trees, things of that nature to the curb by Monday, July 9th, where city crews will pick that debris up," he said.
State transportation officials say the record-breaking heat has caused concrete pavement on westbound Interstate 94 in Minneapolis to buckle, causing lane closures in the afternoon.
MnDOT spokesman Kevin Gutknecht said MnDOT reported no accidents or other problems due to the buckled pavement. He urged drivers to slow down and change lanes if they suspect buckling pavement ahead.
Temperatures will slip back closer to normal for this time of year by the weekend.
Severe storms in northern Minnesota claimed the life of a fisherman and left thousands of people without power.
The Itasca County Sheriff's Department says 49-year-old Roy Jasper Flug was fishing on Swan Lake Monday when the storm hit and high wind capsized his boat. His body was recovered from the lake Tuesday. Chief Deputy Gregg Deutsch says a second man in the boat with Flug was able to swim to shore.
Meanwhile, Lake Country Power Co. said it could be several days before electricity is restored to 10,000 customers without power. The sheriff's department reports "an extreme amount of property damage" in several communities along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor.
SICK FROM THE HEAT
Hospitals in the Twin Cities have already reported more than a dozen heat-related admissions since the start of the hot weather stretch.
Regions Hospital in St. Paul reported 10 heat-related admissions by Tuesday morning.
Hennepin County Medical Center officials said they had at least six people seek treatment for heat-related illness on Monday, including one patient with a body temperature of 109 degrees.
Mary Woodey-Douglas, a care supervisor in the hospital's emergency department, said they saw a number of very small infants who'd been bundled in blankets, despite the heat.
She said people older than 65 and patients with mental illness taking certain medications also need to be careful because some of hose medications can deplete a body of water.
"Those patients are definitely at risk for heat exhaustion if they're exposed," she said.
Medical experts say the elderly are particularly vulnerable to heat related illnesses, in part because medication for chronic illness tends to dehydrate them.
"They also may not be able to tell you if they're dehydrated and maybe not able to get fluids on their own, and also their bodies aren't as good at compensating for fluid loss," said Gary Mayeax, a physician with Regions Hospital in St. Paul. "Children, similarly, aren't able to tell, or keep up with their fluid status on their own. Children also have a greater surface area to mass ratio, so they'll take in more heat, and they also don't sweat as well. So those are some things to consider if you're taking care of a child or an elderly person."
The torrid temperatures prompted Twin Cities in Motion, the organizer of the Red, White and Boom half-marathon scheduled for July 4 week, to shorten the run to five miles. The Red White and Boom race is scheduled for the Fourth of July in Minneapolis.
While runners may feel up to the task, they aren't the only factor race officials have to weigh, said Virgina Brophy Achman, with race organizer Twin Cities in Motion.
"The other thing too that we have to take into consideration when we make these decisions is how it impacts the city. And so, if we put on the half marathon and we actually overtax the EMS system, then we're taking response units away from the general public and that's a consideration we have to take, and that's not something we want to do," she said.
NW MINNESOTA DROUGHT
National Weather Service climate forecaster Mark Ewens says northwestern Minnesota needs several inches of rain to replenish dry soil across a dozen Minnesota counties.
Experts say small grains like wheat and barley are already damaged by drought and the harvest will be smaller than normal. Corn and soybean crops are also stressed and need rain soon.
"Northwest Minnesota is in moderate drought. The next stage is severe drought. And a large part of northwest Minnesota is sitting on the cusp of a severe drought depending on how much precipitation falls over the next week," Ewens said.
The below-normal precipitation since last fall is causing stream levels to fall well below normal, and the groundwater table to drop significantly.
EASTERN US DEATHS
About 1.4 million customers are facing a fourth sweltering day without electricity as utility crews clean up behind a storm that swept from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic.
Power was back for more than a million customers in seven states and the District of Columbia. But refrigeration and air conditioning were still out for many as of Tuesday morning.
Officials fear the death toll, already at 22, could climb because of the heat and widespread use of generators. They emit fumes that can be dangerous in enclosed spaces.
Maryland reported yesterday that three people had died in the recent heat wave. The deaths were not storm-related.
(MPR reporter Dan Gunderson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.)