Schools Canceled As Heat Wave Sweeps Through Midwest

It's hot in parts of the Midwest this week, and student and teachers just back to school are suffering.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A late summer heat wave has much of the Midwest broiling. Temperatures today soared into the 90s in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa, Illinois as well as other states.

And the heat forced some schools that are more accustomed to closing for snow days, to call off classes because of the heat. From sweltering Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Riding up the elevator to the fourth floor of Chicago's Josephinum Academy with school president Michael Dougherty, you can just feel the air get hotter and thicker.

MICHAEL DOUGHERTY: You know, these buildings, they really hold the heat. And so if we have one hot day, usually the building won't heat up too much. But when we've got a couple of very hot days in a row, the mortar, the brick, can really hold the heat.

SCHAPER: And that's certainly the case in this 53-year-old school, especially on the top floor, where even the constant hum of fans on high only cool down the air a little bit. For proof, Dougherty takes me inside a chemistry classroom, where as sweat drips down his face, he digs a few thermometers out of a drawer.

DOUGHERTY: It's about 93, 94 degrees on the fourth floor right now.

SCHAPER: And this is on the cool side of the building.

DOUGHERTY: This is on the north side of the building. We're really lucky that the sun hasn't come out fully...

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: Yeah.

DOUGHERTY: ...and isn't beating in the windows.

SCHAPER: But with temperatures soaring even higher outside, Dougherty made the decision to dismiss the students of the all-girls Catholic high school early today. Many other schools in the Chicago area did the same, although not Chicago's public schools. While some had new window air conditioners installed over the summer, not all did; and many students and teachers sweated it out, taking extra water breaks and where possible, moving to cooler parts of their buildings.

All across the upper Midwest, many other schools canceled classes or dismissed students early. But not so in Minneapolis, where special ed teacher Matthew Meuers, at Patrick Henry High School, says his students already baked through a blisteringly hot school day yesterday.

MATTHEW MEUERS: If it did anything, it made them kind of more complacent 'cause it was too hot to do anything else than just to kind of sit there and listen to your teacher. So it was actually a really nice first day at school.

SCHAPER: Some of Patrick Henry's students didn't think so, and protested the lack of air conditioning after school today. With heat warnings, watches and advisories in place from the Great Lakes to the Great Plains, schools also had to cancel football, volleyball, cross-country and marching band practices; or scale them back with extra water breaks and other precautions.

So, what could be worse than baking in an oven of a classroom? How about this...

(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)

MISSY KALINOSKI: I am Missy Kalinoski. I am from St. Paul. And I am frying a quarter-pound piece of bacon on a stick for $4, and it's very hot. (Laughing)

SCHAPER: Kalinoski is frying bacon on a griddle at the Big Fat Bacon booth, at the Minnesota State Fair. She and her co-workers are taking shorter shifts and drinking lots of water, to try to keep cool during what may be one the hottest state fair weeks in Minnesota in recent memory. The heat has cut into state fair attendance a bit, but general manager Jerry Hammer puts the heat wave into a Minnesotan's perspective.

JERRY HAMMER: We had 17 inches of snow in the middle of May. Spring didn't get here until July 1st. I was camping the third week in July, and it was 39 degrees at night; and it's going to snow in two weeks. So this little slice of summer, you know, if you feel so inclined you'd better get out and do something - if not here, somewhere.

SCHAPER: So Hammer suggests upper Midwesterners should get out and safely enjoy the heat while they still can.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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