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Flying high with the heat

BRAD ULLAND plays with his grandchildren, Reese, 1, on the slide and Mason, 3, on the City Park playground in Detroit Lakes Friday morning. It was a great day to have off from work, he said.1 / 2
ROB BREKKE, Justin Sampson and Darrin Tasto play some football and enjoy the nice weather in Peoples Park Friday afternoon.2 / 2

When you start shattering high temperature records this time of year in Minnesota, people just get plain giddy.

Detroit Lakes hit 63 degrees on Tuesday, breaking the 1914 record of 57 degrees.

And we've only just begun.

Local meteorologists are forecasting a week full of record-breaking temperatures in the 70s that have residents running around like chickens with their pants cut off (to shorts).

Restaurant owners are breaking out their outdoor seating; kids are breaking out their bicycles and some are even breaking out their summer attire.

"We had some guys show up in shorts this morning, and it was still 43 degrees outside," laughed Cole Hornstein, Wildflower Golf Course's head golf professional.

Along with some other area courses, Wildflower, which is located just north of Pelican Lake, opened up unseasonably early this year.

"In fact it's the earliest we've ever opened," said Hornstein, adding that about 100 anxious golfers came in to take their first swings of the season.

"We're running around ragged here, but it's great," said Hornstein, adding that the early open is good news for seasonal members able to take advantage of the extra open days.

He says while some golf courses choose not to open early due to concerns of "ripping up the course," Wildflower is located on land that is fairly sandy, which allows for drainage and eliminates a lot of the standing water and vulnerable ground conditions.

He says they'll be open from around 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or whenever it gets dark.

Local parks seem to also be buzzing a bit as residents enjoy some early outdoor recreation, and city officials are out there too, doing some spring projects of their own.

"We're working on repairing some docks and the Minnesota DNR fishing pier to get ready for open water," said Detroit Lakes Public Works Director Brad Green. "Plus we're pulling out some of the other docks for the boat landings and making sure they're in good shape."

Green says the warm weather has allowed city crews to also get a jump-start on park maintenance, as they've repaired over 100 picnic tables and benches.

Last weekend's rain also prompted city officials to begin checking storm drains a good month ahead of schedule.

"And then we have also started street sweeping to get all the salt and sand off from the winter," said Green, "but we've had some good spring snow storms, so we're not putting our plows away just yet."

Provided those plows are not needed again this spring and the weather stays warmer, DOT officials say it's a possibility their road construction projects could also begin a little earlier than normal.

"It really depends on when they lift the road restrictions," said MnDOT Resident Construction Engineer Trudy Kordoski, who says frost in the ground makes roads more vulnerable to heavy equipment.

"The restrictions are typically lifted in the middle of May, but if it stays warm, they could be lifted before then," added Kordoski.

According to DOT public affairs coordinator Dana Hanson, our mild winter has already been conducive to road projects.

"Maintenance crews got more roadside work done this winter than in past years," said Hanson, "Most of it included tree and brush cutting and trimming and crack sealing on the roadways."

Trees and brushes are also a concern out at Tamarac Wildlife Refuge, as the warm temperatures and lack of snow has caused the threat of wildfire.

"And that's because the snow was gone early this year -- 38 days earlier than last year," said Tamarac Wildlife Biologist Lowell Deedee, adding that officials there monitor what is called a "winter severity index".

"That keeps track of the number of days where the temperature reaches zero or colder and the number of days where snow cover reaches 15 inches or greater," said Deedee, who says this year Tamarac never got to 15 inches and only got below zero 20 days, making this year's winter severity index 20.

Compare that to last year's 151.

"And while we had a mild winter, so did the deer," said Deedee, "and that's an indication that the deer should be in excellent body condition and reproduction should be ideal -- at least it's set up for that right now."

Deedee says not only does this mean a possible increase in deer population, but also the increased chance for several sets of fawn twins.

"Deer often will bear twins, but if winters are severe, they resorb the fetus," said Deedee, "and while last year their body conditions would have been stressed, this year they wouldn't have been."

Deedee says the lack of snow also bodes well for the deers' chances of surviving timber wolf attacks, because while deer are typically slowed by deep snow, wolves can oftentimes run on top of it if there's a crusty layer.

With this scenario not being an issue this year, deer were given more of a fighting chance of survival.

Deedee says area fish populations would have also had an easy winter, as much-needed dissolved oxygen would have been plentiful due to a lack of snow cover that has the ability to block out the sun, which is needed for underwater life.

Deedee also says people might be smelling a few skunks out a little early this year as males seek out their females for breeding. But for hibernating animals in general, he says they usually stick to the calendar, rather than the weather.

Not all animals are as "squirrelly" about the warm weather as us humans.