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Helmut Schmidt, Published July 05 2012

Summer in the cities is hot so far, but there’s lots of room on the scorch-o-meter

FARGO - It’s shaping up to be a long, hot summer in the Red River Valley, but the mercury still has a ways to crawl up the thermometer before we threaten any of the all-time records.

Today, for example, is the anniversary of the hottest temperature ever recorded in North Dakota: 121 degrees in Steele on July 6, 1936.

Moorhead may have also set Minnesota’s high mark on the scorch-o-meter many years ago today – depending on whom you talk to.

The University of Minnesota and the state Department of Natural Resources call it a toasty tie at 114 degrees Fahrenheit between Beardsley on July 29, 1917, and Moorhead on July 6, 1936.

The National Climatic

Data Center, however, has gotten persnickety.

It gives the nod to Beardsley at 115 degrees.

Here’s their reasoning: Moorhead’s July 1936 reading of 113.6 was rounded to 114 degrees. (The NCDC notes that the reading is unlikely to be accurate given the 1-degree precision of the mercury in the glass thermometers used at the time.) Beardsley’s extreme was observed at 114.5 degrees, and was rounded to 115 per current rounding practices.

We won’t argue with any homers who say Moorhead still owns a hot, sweaty chunk of the record.

What is indisputable is that it has been warm early and often so far this year in Fargo-Moorhead, said John Wheeler, chief meteorologist at WDAY-TV.

The city has topped out three times at 96 degrees: May 18, June 9 (a record-setter!) and Monday, he said.

Nationally, June weather records were being set left and right, with much of the southern tier of the country locked in a drought.

The National Weather Service said 3,215 new daily records were set nationwide in June. Among those records were 1,748 of 100 degrees or more.

In June, 164 cities set all-time record high temperature records, the weather service said, with 152 or those records being 100 degrees or higher.

The heat is baking crops in some areas to extra crispy.

As of Tuesday, drought conditions were present in 56 percent of the continental U.S., the weekly Drought Monitor shows. That’s the highest percentage in the 12 years the data have been compiled, the weather service said.

The Fargo-Moorhead area had three days of 90 degrees or above in May, two in June and four so far in July, with two more hot months ahead, Wheeler said.

Since 1881, the average number of times a summer in this area hits 90 degrees or more is 13, he said. Normally, nine or 10 of those marks are set in July and August, he said.

The hot weather is quite a contrast to most of the past 20 years – 1993 to 2011 – which were marked by rainy summers with highs in the 90s perhaps six or seven times a year, he said.

In addition, the heat and the humidity this year, particularly for the first part of July, have “really made it tough,” Wheeler said.

He said he could sleep with the windows open after hot days earlier this year because the humidity was low and temperatures dropped quickly after the sun went down.

Not so the past few days.

“There’s a difference between it’s hot, and I’m hot,” Wheeler said. “What the temperature of the air is, is not necessarily related to how your body is able to deal with temperature,” and humidity makes it harder for people to cope with heat.

The sticky heat has also been a major pain across much of the rest of the nation.

St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago and several other Midwest cities already have set record highs this week or are on the verge of doing so. And with even low temperatures setting heat records, residents are left searching for any relief.

The National Weather Service issued excessive-heat warnings Thursday for all of Illinois and Indiana, as well as parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. Forecasts called for daytime temperatures from the mid- to high 90s into the low 100s.

In Fargo, it reached 94 degrees on Wednesday, but that didn’t set a record. The day’s low at 74 degrees did, Wheeler said. That’s 2 degrees warmer than the previous record highest low temperature mark of 72 set in 1938.

Before the area dove into a wet cycle in 1993, 100-degree temperatures happened roughly once every two years, Wheeler said, with some years in the 1980s having four such summer scorchers.

But in the past 20 years, there have only been three days, one in June 1995 and two in July 2006, that hit or topped the 100-degree mark, which is by far the fewest in a 20-year period since records have been kept, Wheeler said.

“That makes the Fourth of July seem even hotter,” Wheeler said.

“I think it will continue to be an above-average summer,” he added, with a couple of 100s possible.

The most recent wave of heat produced one notable temperature close to North Dakota, Wheeler said. Buffalo, S.D., hit 111 last week.

“We probably haven’t seen the hottest weather of the summer yet,” he said.

Some other weather tidbits to pass around the air conditioner:

• The highest temperature on record for the U.S. was 134 degrees recorded on July 10, 1913, in Greenland Ranch, Calif.

• The highest heat index record in Minnesota, or “feels like” mix of heat and humidity, was 125 degrees recorded in Red Wing on July 30, 1999, when that city experienced 97 degrees with an 84-degree dew point, the weather service reports.

• Montana tops the nation for the biggest difference in temperature extremes at 187 degrees (minus-70 degrees and 117 degrees), according to Golden Gate Weather Services.

It’s followed by North Dakota and Wyoming at 181 degrees. (North Dakota’s extremes are minus 60 and 121 degrees, and Wyoming was minus 66 and 115 degrees.)

Alaska followed at 180 degrees (minus 80 and 100 degrees).

Using National Climatic Data Center information, Minnesota’s extremes are minus 60 and 115 degrees, a 175-degree swing.

• If you want to think cool:

Parshall had the honor of recording the coldest temperature in North Dakota with 60 below zero on Feb. 15, 1936.

Tower holds the Minnesota low temperature mark, recording 60 below zero on Feb. 2, 1996.

The lowest temperature on record for the United States is 80 degrees below zero on Jan. 23, 1971, in Prospect Creek, Alaska.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583. Some material from The Associated Press was included in this story.