Dirk Lammers / AP
Anglers gather on the Missouri River below the Fort Randall Dam for some winter fishing Wednesday in Fort Randall, S.D., where temperatures hit the high 50s.
Record high January temperatures may be nice for the average resident of the Dakotas, but they're worrying for farmers and firefighters alike.
Temperatures in the mid-50s were recorded across North and South Dakota. The record high of 55 Wednesday in Bismarck, N.D., was 32 degrees above normal. In fact, in some parts of the Dakotas, it's warmer this January than it is in many parts of Florida.
Record warmth was forecast again in many areas. In Minot, N.D., the forecast low temperature Thursday is in the mid-30s. That's 15 degrees warmer than the average daytime high for early January, said Justin McHeffey, weather director at NBC station KMOT.
With highs forecast in the 60s later this week in some areas, following a period of below-average precipitation, authorities warned that the risk for a wildland fire — in winter — is higher than usual.
"The conditions are ripe," said Dennis Gorton, administrator of the Pennington County, S.D., Fire Department.
"If we had 6 inches of snow cover ... it wouldn't be any kind of concern," Gorton told NBC station KNBN of Rapid City. "But we just don't have the snow cover this year."
The lack of snow is also a problem for farmers. While it may seem paradoxical, hardy Northern crops need at least 3 inches of snow cover to keep them warm during the winter months — the snow, which is at or just below freezing, is actually much warmer than air temperatures that routinely drop into double digits below zero. So if a cold snap were to hit now, crops would be at risk.
Agriculture officials in both states rated snow cover protection for alfalfa and winter wheat as poor. That's because the average snow depth this week is about only two-tenths of an inch; it's usually more than a foot and a half in January.
Lower but still higher-than usual temperatures are forecast across most of the region by the weekend.
NBC stations KFYR of Bismarck, N.D.; KMOT of Minot, N.D.; and KNBN of Rapid City, S.D., contributed to this report by Alex Johnson of msnbc.com.
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