Unseasonably warm weather in the Bismarck region this week has become record heat, worsening tinder-dry conditions.

The temperature at the Bismarck airport on Wednesday rose to 62 degrees, breaking the March 3 record of 61 set almost a century ago in 1905, according to the National Weather Service.

Warm air flowing from the Pacific and supplanting the arctic air that blanketed the state last month is causing the balmy conditions. Less than three weeks ago, Bismarck had a record-low temperature for Feb. 13 of minus 28 — 90 degrees colder than Wednesday’s high.

The down side to the change in the weather pattern is that it hasn’t been accompanied by precipitation.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday shows that more than two-thirds of North Dakota including all of the west remains in severe drought. About another quarter of the state is in moderate drought, and the rest is considered abnormally dry. Bismarck-Mandan is in moderate drought but on the edge of severe conditions.

The weather service on Thursday issued a hazardous weather outlook for southwestern North Dakota — roughly the area south and west of a line stretching from Bismarck to Williston — for “near critical” wildfire conditions. Many western counties have burn bans or restrictions in effect. Morton County issued a ban on Thursday; violations could bring 30 days in jail and a $1,500 fine. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe issued a burn ban on its reservation on Monday.

North Dakota’s Game and Fish Department is prohibiting open burning on the Oahe Wildlife Management Area south of Bismarck-Mandan. The heavily wooded recreation area along the Missouri River is popular with anglers, campers and other outdoors enthusiasts, and it’s prone to wildfires before the spring green-up.

Wildlife Resource Management Supervisor Bill Haase said all open burning including campfires is banned until further notice. The use of portable grills is allowed but extreme caution is advised.

The Oahe Wildlife Management Area covers 25 square miles in portions of Burleigh, Emmons and Morton counties. In addition, surrounding areas included in the open burn ban include Kimball Bottoms and MacLean Bottoms managed by the Bismarck Parks and Recreation District, the Desert off-road vehicle area managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Graner Park managed by Morton County Parks.

The regional forecast calls for continued warm weather into early next week, with highs possibly reaching as high as 70 on Saturday. It’s unlikely that Bismarck will set any more record highs, but Dickinson might, according to weather service Meteorologist Brandon Gale.

AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said that “Even though many records may remain intact, temperatures are expected to range from 15-30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal.”

The weather is expected to cool to more normal temperatures by mid to late next week, and a storm anticipated to move through the Northern Plains could bring rain or snow, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Jason Anglin.

“The most likely scenario at this time sees this system split north and south and bring minimal impacts to North Dakota, while the less likely, high-impact scenario sees a wetting rain and accumulating snow across the state,” he said.

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