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Erik Burgess, Published September 22 2012

Summer was fourth hottest on record

FARGO – It’s official: Fargo just sweated through its fourth-warmest summer since 1881, when record-keeping began.

The mercury touched 90 degrees 24 times this year, and cracked 100 degrees once.

The average 2012 summer temperature of 71.8 degrees was three degrees warmer than average and only 2.1 degrees cooler than the record set in 1988.

The National Weather Service also calculated only one overcast day between the months of June and August, with a total rainfall in that span of 6.3 inches, nearly 3 inches below the average.

“It was like living in the desert, in a number of ways,” said WDAY Chief Meteorologist John Wheeler. “We had such low humidity, such clear skies. It just was otherworldly.”

Hot temperatures were mostly due to a high-pressure system hanging over the valley for much of the summer, said Brad Hopkins, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Grand Forks.

“Under high pressure, the air is sinking,” Hopkins said. “So what happens in sinking air? It compresses and warms.”

Dry conditions also contributed to the perception that this summer was abnormal, Wheeler said. The Red River Valley “turned wet” in 1993 and hasn’t dried up much since.

“Most of them were not only wet but extremely wet summers,” Wheeler said. “(It) kind of became the norm.”

Hopkins said this summer reminded him of weather in the summer of 1988. The average temp that year was a record at 73.9 degrees.

The weather service noted that this summer was not in the top 10 driest. The driest summer was in 1936, when only 1.86 inches of rain fell.

“It was dry but not record dry,” said Jim Kaiser, another weather service meteorologist. “It was probably more noticeable given the fact that we’ve been so wet (in recent years).”

Wheeler said the Red River Valley was overdue for a drought. The area became complacent with the wet cycle and almost forgot that drought is a part of normal weather activity, he said.

“It’s not that unusual that we had a hot, dry summer. What’s more unusual is that we stayed wet and cool for so long,” Wheeler said. “In the big picture, a hot, dry summer is a normal part of the weather regime around here.”

The meteorologists agreed that a hot and dry summer has no bearing on what is to come this fall, which officially began Saturday, and winter.

Hemispheric weather activity that can cause a summer to be hotter and drier than normal often doesn’t extend into the next season, Wheeler said.

“Those types of things usually run their course over the matter of a few months,” he said. “So typically, just because you have a hot, dry summer, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to that the winter will be hot and dry.”

Hopkins said the weather service is predicting a drier than normal fall and initial signals point to a warmer than average winter, which could be disrupted by some cold snaps.

The prediction, some of it based on past weather trends, is made more difficult because last year’s winter was warmer than usual, Hopkins said.

“This past winter we kind of looked at it as a black swan event,” he said. “There was some head scratching. Some folks really didn’t understand why it happened the way it did, based on past trends.”

Wheeler said if anything is certain, it’s that nothing is certain.

“This winter in particular there just aren’t any good signals,” he said. “There just aren’t any good clear signs that suggest anything what the winter will bring.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518