Published August 29, 2012
PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota is better known for its winter blizzards, but a late summer blast of heat drove temperatures Wednesday into the triple-digit range more often associated with hot spots like Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Many people ditched their long pants for shorts, sought shade or took shelter in air-conditioned buildings. More than two dozen school districts across the state shut down early as temperatures rose above 100 degrees and turned classrooms into saunas.
The capital city of Pierre hit 110 degrees late Wednesday afternoon, far above its normal high of 85 and its previous record of 104 for the date set in 1983. It was about 10 degrees hotter in Pierre than Phoenix on Wednesday.
Eureka Superintendent Bo Beck said his district in north-central South Dakota joined others in dismissing students a few hours early because their classrooms lack air conditioning.
"It's tough to learn in an environment when a room is 100 degrees," Beck said.
Eureka and other rural districts have called off classes due to late-summer heat in past years, but school closures are more common in winter months when snow, frigid temperatures and winds make travel unsafe, Beck said.
Scott Doering, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Aberdeen, said some places in central South Dakota would break or come close to breaking records before temperatures start to drop to the 80s and lower 90s Thursday.
Though temperatures topping 100 sometimes persist in South Dakota even into September, Doering said this summer is sure to rank among the state's five hottest of all time.
Sina Matthes, a 38-year-old Phoenix resident and city employee, said she was surprised to hear South Dakotans were battling Phoenix-like weather, but she added that it's all about perspective.
"It's not even 100 degrees here today, so for us it's actually nice. I should probably bring a sweater," Matthes said.
She said South Dakotans have her sympathy, but that "a few days isn't so bad."
"When it's consistently 110 and the sidewalk is extremely hot and you see people who try to fry eggs on the sidewalk, that's when you know it's really hot," Mattes said.
Her tips for beating the hit? Stay inside, turn on the fan and enjoy a big cold drink.
That's what Don Hotalling, superintendent for South Dakota's Stanley County School District, wanted his students to do after they were sent home early Wednesday afternoon because some classrooms are not air-conditioned. The problem will be solved next year when a new building is finished.
"With 106 degrees forecast for today, we knew it really was going to be miserable for some of the students," Hotalling said. "With the humidity and the heat, it's very uncomfortable."
Stanley County eighth-grader Madison Bogue was happy her Fort Pierre school ended the day early.
"It's really awesome. It's better than sitting in there all day," the 13-year-old said.
Schools tried to keep buildings cool with fans and by setting lights to low. Students were encouraged to drink water and given Popsicles. Hotalling said some students still complained of headaches Tuesday.
On the Rosebud Indian Reservation in south-central South Dakota, tribal workers were sent home early Wednesday afternoon because of the heat, tribal spokesman Alfred Walking Bull said.
"It's pretty extreme," he said.
Walking Bull said emergency services are on alert for elderly tribal members in case they get too hot. The tribe usually provides air-condition units and fans to elderly and low-income tribal members during the summer months, he said.
Terry Woster of the state Department of Public Safety said emergency management officials had received no requests for assistance.
After a summer that has been much warmer than usual, most South Dakotans seemed to take the soaring temperatures in stride.
"This is my kind of weather," said retiree Steve Wegman of Pierre, who planned to ride his motorcycle Wednesday.
Even with the heat, winter was on the mind of Jayne Parsons, a wellness consultant in Pierre. She said she's ready for fall but knows winters can be tough.
"When it's 30 below, I'll have to remind myself this wasn't so nice either," Parsons said.
Associated Press writers Blake Nicholson in Bismarck, N.D., and Kristi Eaton and Amber Hunt in Sioux Falls, S.D., contributed to this report.