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Heat leaves mark on state fair with major decline in daily attendance

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FALCON HEIGHTS — The Bennett family was well prepared for searing heat at the Minnesota State Fair.

The frozen grapes, plentiful water, white T-shirts, changes of clothes and extra deodorant helped, but were not enough to make the Rice Lake, Wis., family actually cool Tuesday.

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“Just waiting for ice cream,” dad Greg Bennett said.

Carter Bennett, 13, suggested a way to beat the heat: “The haunted house is air conditioned.”

That idea did not fly with his parents, but the family was making the best of things as a heat wave gripped the Upper Midwest, centered on Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for Tuesday and warned the oppressive heat will continue through much of the Upper Midwest through at least today. Tuesday was the third day of the high heat.

Temperatures across much of the Upper Midwest are due to remain in the 90s into the weekend, when more normal temperatures are expected to return. Most of North Dakota and South Dakota will remain in the 90s, although some of northern Minnesota may continue in the relatively chilly mid-80s.

Few serious heat-related problems were reported, but there were issues.

Some students at one Minneapolis school protested because they were forced to attend classes with no air conditioning. Many schools in the region canceled evening sports activities and some communities shuttered community centers without air conditioning.

North Dakota officials heard from people who think schools should start after Labor Day because of the heat.

“We don’t typically call off school for heat in North Dakota,” said Matt Strinden of the Department of Public Instruction.

North Dakota officials said, as far as they know, only Fargo has canceled school due to high temperatures, although others let out early.

In Willmar, Minn., the city utility initiated a program to encourage electricity use at night.

In areas not experiencing the hottest weather, such as northern Minnesota and western North Dakota, storms were more the norm.

Rough weather rumbled through northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin Monday night and early Tuesday, prompting some tornado warnings. Parts of northwestern Wisconsin received nearly 6 inches of rain, the second downpour in two days.

On Tuesday afternoon, thunderstorms built around Dickinson, N.D.

The region’s largest gathering this week is the Minnesota State Fair in Falcon Heights, where the heat was affecting visitors and vendors alike.

Attendance was down Monday to 103,000 visitors, compared to 133,000 last year. Veteran fair-goers said they thought the Tuesday crowd was down even more, one of the slimmest attendances they had seen. The fair will announce today how many went through the gates Tuesday.

Vendors said Tuesday was particularly slow.

“When it is in the 80s, things it slows down, when it hits 90, it stops,” said Tim Weiss, who runs Giggles' Campfire Grill in the fair’s North Woods area.

Near the southern end of the fair, the Bennett family stood in the shade eating early Tuesday afternoon and taking advantage of the slow day.

The Bennetts and other fair visitors said they liked the fact that lines were short.

The couple and four children played a game: Anyone who did not use the word “hot” won a prize at the end of the day. But temperatures reaching 96 were too much for 7-year-old Faith, the first to use the forbidden word.

The family was decked out in white T-shirts.

“It doesn’t attract the sun as much,” Carter Bennett said.

Mom Donielle Bennett packed frozen grapes as cool treats and water for hydration for the kids, including J.T., 9, and Luke, 4. J.T. pointed out that the family also bought chilled fruit at the fair.

The family maintained a good attitude despite the heat.

“Put on a smile,” Donielle Bennett suggested. “Remember, the snow is coming.”

Reporter TJ Jerke, the West Central Tribune and the Duluth News Tribune contributed to this story.

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The Forum Communications News Service is the premier news wire service covering the Upper Midwest, stretching from the oilfields of western North Dakota to the plains of South Dakota and to the shores of eastern Minnesota. For more information about the services we offer or to discuss content subscriptions, please contact us.
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