After a late-starting and fairly mild summer, Minnesotans are getting a real blast of heat this week, and it's breaking records. The mercury is expected to hit 98 degrees Tuesday.
At the Twin Cities airport on Monday the thermometer hit 97 -- smashing a record last set when some of today's Baby Boomers were still in diapers: 1948.
At the Minnesota State Fair, the crowd trudging down Dan Patch Avenue in the mid-afternoon sun -- wearing sweat-soaked ballcaps, carrying melting sno-cones -- didn't feel as big as opening day, but it was still respectable. Some stepped off the steaming asphalt and beelined for the closest shade tree.
A weary few turned into the medical aid building on the west end of the fairgrounds. You might think with weather like this, the doctors and nurses here would be overwhelmed with people passing out from heat stroke, but most people in the building were there to enjoy a few minutes in the air conditioning with a cool glass of ice water.
There's been no uptick in heat-related illnesses at the Fair, said Matt Simpson deputy chief for emergency medical services at the St. Paul Fire Department . Medical staff saw 80 people on Sunday, mostly for minor problems, and only four of those people needed to go to the hospital. Unlike the temperature, Simpson says the number of sick cases is average.
"We brought one additional ambulance in to prepare for that additional heat, but we haven't seen that influx in our transports yet, which has been really good for us," he said.
The fifth day of the Fair Day was also the first day of the school year across the river in Minneapolis. Most of the district's buildings there are air conditioned, but a dozen and a half are not -- making for a scorching return to classrooms.
On the city's north side, as students spilled out of Patrick Henry High School at 3 p.m., 18-year-old senior Meng Thao said he was glad to be out of the stuffy school and outside in the you-can't-exactly-call-it fresh air. The old brick building holds in the heat like a pizza oven on a sweltering day, and Thao said one classroom on the top floor of the building felt miserable -- even in the morning.
"We got free water from the district, so that was the plus. And other than that, the teachers popped open the windows," with fans running everywhere, he said.
Thao, captain of his tennis team, said practice was canceled because of the heat, just as it was for all school athletics across the city.
While the kids at Patrick Henry said give me AC or give me the day off, teacher Matthew Meuers said it seemed like people in the building handled the heat just fine.
"If it did anything, it made them kind of more complacent because it was too hot to do anything else but to just sit there and listen to your teacher. So it was actually a really nice first day of school," he said.
Lauren Damman, a mom who has boys in Anthony Middle School and Southwest High School, neither of which has air conditioning, visited both schools Monday to drop off Gatorade for her sons and had a different take on the situation.
"There's a lot of stress energy, and a lot of excessive heat in the building," she said. "The staff members look more haggard than the children. The staff members are having a hard time trying to teach, and the kids can't track. They're just trying to stay cool. The kids shouldn't be there, you know?"
“We got free water from the district, so that was the plus. And other than that, the teachers popped open the windows.”Patrick Henry High School senior Meng Thao
While the teachers and students at Henry didn't have the luxury of air conditioning, it seemed everyone else in the Twin Cities metro who did had it cranked up to 11. That caused some trouble for Xcel Energy, who've been playing a bit of whack-a-mole fixing rolling blackouts. Part of south Minneapolis went dark for a few hours Sunday night. And Xcel's website reported several thousand outages at various times during the day yesterday.
Xcel spokeswoman Mary Sandok said the supply of electricity isn't the problem. Instead, sometimes bottlenecks crop up in the equipment that sends the juice that last mile to your home.
"Mechanical equipment can sometimes break down when it's in an overload situation, and that's what will happen in excessive heat situations on our electricity system," she said, adding that customers can reduce demand by turning up the temperature on their thermostats and running appliances at night.
Excessive heat warnings remain in effect for the southern third of Minnesota -- including the Twin Cities through tonight. Highs in the lower 90s are expected by Wednesday, which relatively speaking, may feel like a bit of relief.
"This kind of unrelenting heat is serious stuff for the very old and young and our pets," MPR News meteorologist Paul Huttner wrote Monday. "The effects of heat are cumulative over days, and hot overnight lows above 80 degrees add to the danger. Your body just can't cool off at night."