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More potentially record heat blanketing western North Dakota, worsening wildfire conditions

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Recent unseasonably warm weather is giving a boost to construction projects in the area. Lance Mills, left, and Jeremy Mayfield on Monday salvage electrical wire taken from the strip mall on Bowen Avenue being leveled by Weisz & Sons Inc. to make way for a parking lot. Demolition is expected to be complete in about two weeks, according to Dwight Weisz.

Western North Dakota could be in store for more record heat after a brief cooldown late last week to more seasonal autumn temperatures.

The National Weather Service forecast Tuesday highs in the lower 90s in the region, setting the stage for Bismarck, Dickinson, Williston and Minot all to potentially set record highs for the date. Bismarck's Oct. 5 record of 90 degrees was set 72 years ago.

Even if records aren't broken, the heat still will be more suited to July and August and unusual for this time of year, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Matt Benz. 

"Dickinson hasn’t hit 90 in October since 2011 when they hit 95, and Williston last reached 90 in October back in 2005," he said.

The temperature in Dickinson a week ago, on Sept. 28, soared to 100 degrees, which appeared to be the latest in the year that any weather station in the state had recorded a triple-digit temperature, according to the National Weather Service.

The warm, dry air that led to that reading and to records in other cities including Bismarck early last week was pushed into the Northern Plains by a storm system in the Pacific Northwest. This week, the surge of hot air is coming out of the Desert Southwest and spilling northward over the Rockies, according to AccuWeather.

"The core of the heat is expected to peak on Tuesday for many locations across the Northern Plains, but temperatures will likely remain well above average through the end of the week," Benz said.

The heat along with gusty conditions and low humidity will exacerbate the wildfire risk. The National Weather Service on Tuesday posted a red flag warning for critical fire weather conditions in the northwest, along with a fire weather watch for Wednesday for all of western and central North Dakota. There already have been 2,400 wildfires in North Dakota this year -- more than 2 ½ times the number all of last year.

The fire danger in western and central North Dakota on Tuesday was rated as very high or extreme. All counties in the region except Kidder have some form of burning restrictions in place.

The conditions also mean it's unlikely there will be much improvement in the drought that has plagued North Dakota and much of the rest of the region this year.

"Drought continues to grip most of the Northern Plains, where places like Dickinson and Williston haven't received much meaningful rainfall since August," Benz said.

Cooler weather should arrive by the weekend, dropping temperatures to more seasonal numbers. Some areas in western North Dakota could see highs only in the 50s on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service's state forecast. Bismarck-Mandan should see highs in the lower 60s this weekend, with Saturday expected to be a rainy day.

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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