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Heat wave bakes Russia: It's so hot that squirrels stay inside

A heat wave in Russia is behind wildfires and the worst drought in 130 years. In Moscow, people – and animals – are seeking ways to stay cool. Crops are withering. Temperatures this weekend could break a 30-year record.

By Olga PodolskayaCorrespondent, and Jenna FisherStaff writer / July 22, 2010

Young people enjoy water jets cooling themselves in a fountain outside the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, July 15. A heat wave hit central Russia breaking temperature records going higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two weeks.

Mikhail Metzel/AP Photo

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Moscow

Moscow is hot. A severe heat wave has caused what some are reporting as the worst drought in 130 years. Over the past two weeks, temperatures have hovered in the mid-90s F. Moscow and much of Russia, which is usually spared this kind of heat, is baking – and forecasters are warning of more to come.

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Galina Gaivoronskaya, a math teacher from Moscow, says she sleeps on a damp bed sheet to stay cool. Lidia Golubeva says she can't remember sweltering days on end like this in more than 30 years.

“Between a cold shower and the shade of an oak-tree I hope to survive. I remember such heat in 1972 but if it goes like this we'll set a new temperature record by the end of July,” says Ms. Golubeva.

Experts concur.

Alexander Frolov, the head of the Federal Hydrometereology and Environmental Monitoring Service says that Moscow could break a record of 36.8 degrees C. (98.2 degrees F.) this weekend.

What this means for Moscow

Ice cream consumption, water consumption, and road rage is up; movement and productivity is down. Muscovites say that animals such as snakes and squirrels are only venturing out in the early morning hours and spend the rest of the day in hiding. Zookeepers are working overtime to keep their charges cool. Adding to the difficulties, more than 945 fires have broken out across Russia in the past week.

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Many Muscovites are taking to the rivers and fountains. The Ministry of Emergency Situations reported that more than 1,720 people drowned in the past two months after seeking respite in the water. Still, the extraordinary number of drownings aren’t far off of previous years – drinking alcohol while swimming and lack of swimming skills contribute to high rates every year.

What it means for farmers

Some 9.6 million hectares of grain loss is reported, and at least 19 regions in Russia have declared emergencies.

Still, though this heat wave and drought is among the worst in recent history, it doesn't seem to be threatening widespread agricultural failure.

Experts say expected grain yields will be about 75-80 million tons, similar to the yield in 2000, which was enough for domestic consumption. In the event of a shortage, however, there are grain reserves estimated at 23.9 million tons in June by Russia's state committee for statistics.

Alexey Mukhin, general director of the Center of Political Information jokes, “I think the population uses heat as a pretext to ignore their office duties, as far as I can judge by my staff's behavior.”

He then adds, “As to grain, small harvests in Russia are not a disaster but a blessing. The prices for agricultural products are growing and farmers are happy. In good years, big harvest makes prices go down and that is a tragedy for the farmers.”

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