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A picture from the Bill Marshall Estate auction near Tisdale May 2nd, 2002

Thursday May 9th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

It's sunny and we are now expecting better weather than we have had for a while, but we will barely be touching the norms and the nights will be cooler than the norms, even on the warmest day.  Still no dandelions. Nonetheless most of the hives are building up well and splitting is right on schedule -- surprisingly.

My weight is back down to 235 again.  I guess the gain at the time of my physical was due to not feeling well.  It is interesting how weight can fluctuate up and down by five pounds over a few days.

We continue to put on thirds, and are over half done.  It looks as if somewhere around 30% will require them.

I went to the Calgary Ultralight Flying Club meeting in the evening.

Today..Mainly sunny. Wind light. High plus 8.
Tonight..Partly cloudy. Wind west 20 km/h. Low minus 3.
 Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Wednesday May 8th, 2002

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Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

We started the day with a meeting to discuss what what we are doing in the field.  It seemed to me from the reports that we are putting on too many thirds and I wanted to make sure we are only adding boxes to extra strong hives. I was reassured that some yards are very strong and that we are not over-doing it by much.  Things are picking up!

I then went to Frere's to recover the truck.  I towed it home and arrived around eleven.  I decided to install new batteries, and it took me an hour to change them.  The ones I removed tested good, but I figured we'll do a bit more testing before I bet a day's work on them again.  I also discovered a slow electrical leak, and could not track it down.  I thought it must be a leaking alternator diode, but disconnecting the alternator did not eliminate the leak.  It is an odd leak. 

There is a very small spark at the battery terminal if I take the connection apart and rub the wire on the battery terminal, however if I wait a minute and do it, then there is a much stronger spark.  It almost seems like capacitance or a timer is involved.  I cannot figure it out.  Anyhow, a leak should account for the apparent battery failure, since the truck sat over the three day weekend and the batteries may have been low to start the week.  We normally put a trickle charge on the trucks overnight when using the electrical feeders, so that should keep things running until I figure out what is happening.

On the right are pictures of some of our best hives.  These are in a sheltered yard that is doing very well.  The hives in more open locations are generally a bit slower building up.  The thirds in the first picture were put on yesterday and the bees are boiling over already and coming and going from the bottom entrance as well. 

We are going to have to split these hives very soon or they will peak too early and either swarm and/or fail to make a crop.  I had to reinstate another 100 queens from my original order, which I had postponed, and also confirm another 250 for next week.  We will need them at the rate things are going.  Splitting, as well as helping maintain numbers and being an essential part of swarm control, is our preferred method of re-queening.

The third picture is a good double.  Our wraps are still on and the insulation helps the bees spread out over the frames and go down into the bottom box.

We are using up all our protein patties as fast as the bees will eat them.  There is some pollen coming in now, but many days are so cold that the bees have not been able to get out much.

Today..A mix of sun and cloud. Wind light. High plus 4.
Tonight..Partly cloudy. Wind becoming west 20 km/h. Low minus 5.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Tuesday May 7th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

"Today...  Periods of snow. Further accumulation 2 to 5 cm.  Wind becoming north 20 km/h this morning. High plus 1.  Normals for the period.  Low 2.  High 16"   That's our forecast .. again!  When will this end?.

Mats sent me these pictures of his Styrofoam hives in Sweden with permission to use them on this page. Note that standard wooden boxes appear to be fully interchangeable with the styro boxes.  I assume the interiors are the same, but the exteriors don't match in size due to the thicker wall.

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Here's Mats' comment after reading the above:

I read your diary.  Actually, the boxes are not really interchangeable. They are different frame formats. I am in the process of changing from "Lagnormal" (low normal), which is a common format in Sweden, to the medium Langstroth format. Putting one on top of the other leaves a gap that I cover with a piece of 1x4 board.

That is interesting.  The boxes we have here, in North America, the styro and wood boxes, are indeed, interchangeable and match when stacked -- with a bit of overhang all around due to the wall thickness -- but, as Mats mentions, in Europe, they have many, many 'standard' sizes and compatibility can be a nightmare.

Although not absolutely necessary, it is normal to paint styro hive bodies to protect from the sun and also to prevent mildew and moss growth.  I understand that these boxes last a long time -- up to 30 years -- but get beat-up looking fairly quickly. I would like to see some that have been in commercial or migratory service for several years.

After giving instructions to the crew, El and I went north to visit a beekeeper with whom we have been working.  We did some business and looked at some hives and came home again via Red Deer, where we stopped to do a bit of shopping. 

Here are some pictures from our visit

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Package Bees
  The hive bodies are painted dark brown to draw the heat of the sun. It makes a difference in a cool spring.

Wintered Bees
Unwrapped, but protected in black plastic. The black draws heat from the sun, and the plastic keeps wind from blowing in thru cracks

Wintered Bees
  Still wrapped, but fed and medicated.  These were doing better than the unwrapped bees, but are harder to work on.

During the day, Paulo phoned to report that he was unable to start his truck.  He was working in a yard with 300 hives and was not yet half done.  We called for a boost and twenty minutes later he called back to report that they had boosted, but were still unable to get the engine going.  Apparently, something more than a flat battery was wrong, in the opinion of the mechanic who was providing the boost.  He had only hooked up to our truck for a few minutes and was in a rush to get going.  I wasn't too impressed.

We had assumed that the cause of the problem must be the battery, since the men were feeding a huge yard and the feeder pump runs on a car starter motor.  It runs a gear pump and is not under heavy load, so does not draw a huge current (I have a 90 amp breaker on it that never trips).  Nonetheless, we know that after about forty hives, the truck engine must be run to replenish the battery, and we usually put a charger on each night to make sure the charge is topped up. Since we are adding thirds and there are two feeders per hive to fill, it is possible that the total current drain was more than estimated.  I also can't remember how good the batteries are on that truck. Maybe they are losing their capacity.  That happens as they age.

Paulo left his helper working, hitched a ride with the mechanic to town, got his own van, and returned to finish the yard, but without being able to fill feeders.  That small omission is no big deal.  We are mostly concerned about ensuring there is enough space to raise brood and that there are sufficient protein patties on the hives.   He then went home and will come in tomorrow to get another truck.  We have four identical diesel one-tons and two gas units -- all with 18 foot decks and full kit -- so that we don't get held up or have to load and reload trucks when changing between tasks. 

I appreciated Paulo's initiative and effective problem-solving.  His sharp thinking salvaged the rest of the day, which could have been lost in driving around and accomplishing little.  Instead we got a lot done.  I'll go up tomorrow and just tow the truck home, whether it starts or not.  All our trucks are designed to accept a towbar, so towing is simple -- and it only takes one person.

I bought two FRS radios today c/w chargers and anticipate they will be handy around the yard

Today..Periods of snow. Further accumulation 2 to 5 cm. Wind becoming north 20 km/h this morning. High plus 1.
Tonight..Cloudy. 60 percent chance of flurries this evening. Clearing around midnight. Wind north 20 km/h. Low minus 9.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Monday May 6th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

It is snowy and overcast this morning.  There is not much on the ground, but they are promising as much as two inches over the next day.  Does that sound like yesterday?  It is the same. I've never seen anything like this.  All we can do is grin and bear it.

This was in my mailbox this morning.  The writer has been a help to me in recommending the styro hives in the past.  He sent me some pictures some time back, so I'll include them here, seeing as we are talking about the hives.  Ooops.  They were pretty big.  Periodically I delete old email attachments so that my mailbox does not grow too large.  I must have deleted the.  I'll have to ask for another copy.

Hey Allen!

I have become a frequent reader of your diary and i enjoy it a lot. I have to tell you I'm amazed by the tough climate you have and how commercial beekeeping is even possible there. Sweden (where I am) is often used to describe extreme beekeeping conditions but we're nowhere near what you have, at least not in the Stockholm area. I guess the very north of Sweden is about the same climate as yours in the spring, but your summers are warmer I suppose.

I'm glad to see you're testing the same styro boxes that i use and finding them good. They seem to bee everlasting. I met a beekeeper last year who told me he'd been using the same styro boxes for 30+ years and they were still fine. He just gave them a bit of paint every now and then.

I hope you too will see spring very soon. Spring is two weeks earlier than usual here. Colonies are in great shape and many good nectar sources are already in full bloom.

Here's another note.  It's a private reply to a post I made on BEE-L:

> > In our experience, the patties are effective whether they are consumed or not! Strange.

Occam's Razor says the hives weren't in jeopardy of getting AFB anyway.  They would have been fine without patties.

Nonetheless, we know what our levels were before we started using patties. Now we see nothing, and some don't eat them.

Saw worst case of AFB I've seen in years (perhaps ever) this weekend at a  yard where the person is selling out. I knew as soon as I opened the first  hive. It's about 15 miles from my yards. Actually only about 5 miles from one out yard.  I advised the owner to burn everything. Comments?

Burning someone else's hives is always a good idea. Gets the local honey price up if nothing else. Burnt offerings also may appease the honey gods.

Actually it all depends on the amount of equipment. A few boxes are never worth the hassle of salvage measures, but if the boxes number in hundreds, then melting or radiation are real options.

Personally, I have cleaned up real stinkers many years ago, about the time I was a bee inspector: 100% AFB to start, and the hives were the same as any others after a few years.

I also used ETO, but without follow-up chemo done right, ETO is not reliable.  Radiation works.  My neighbour got to 30% AFB (resistant) in a huge outfit before he wised up. He hauled trailerloads to Iotron http://www.iotron.com/  (where we get pollen irradiated) and the next year saw almost no AFB -- without using any drugs or using them once only.  He reports amazingly perfect brood patterns as an unexpected bonus.  He attributes this to using sterile comb, since most used comb carries some accumulated  pathogens.


I spent the day at the desk working on notes and at one went for my annual physical.  I weigh 4-1/2 kilos (10 pounds) less than last year on this date by the doctor's scale.  Not as much as I had thought, but then again, I was a bit ill yesterday (food poisoning?) and am today 4 pounds over what I have been seeing  each morning.

Still no dandelions...


Link of 

the Day

Today..Snow. Wind northeast 30 km/h. High minus 1.
Tonight..Snow ending around midnight then cloudy. Further accumulation 5 to 10 cm. Wind northeast 30 diminishing. Low minus 6.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 16.

Sunday May 5th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

Package Bees

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Over-wintered Bees

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It is snowy and overcast this morning.  There is not much on the ground, but they are promising as much as two inches over the next day.  We are expecting Purves-Smiths for lunch and Meijers for supper.

On the right are some pictures I took yesterday of package bees and the Styrofoam hives that Swienty sent me, thanks to Murray McGregor.  In the top picture, a complete styrofoam hive is visible in the foreground.  Behind it is the second styro box, with a conventional floor and lid.  Each has one of our pillows under the lid to ensure a decent seal against wind, since there are patties on the top bars and these lift conventional lids up a bit.

Joe and Oene came over to bring our trees and to have supper.  We went out to take a look and decided that the bees are better spread out in the Swienty hives than the wooden ones.  In the complete Swienty hive the bees were even in the feeder, whereas they were not in other hives. 

   It was around freezing, overcast, spitting rain or snow, and breezy when all these pictures were taken 

In the pictures, we can see that my crew missed the target placing the patties.  Both Protein and extender patties must be within the cluster to be effective.  They had slipped patties in during a windy day and not looked carefully when placing them.

We also went down to look at the spring splits from last year that are headed by Kona carniolan queens.  These hives are not as big as some of our hives, but all wintered and came through alive.  We have been taking our dead-outs and using the brood boxes on top of strong hives to provide space in those that are plugged and also feed for those which are light.  We slide the wrap up the hive to the top boxes (leaving the bottom box exposed). These wraps are paying off in this nasty spring, since we can work our hives, but they are still protected from the weather.

The second shot shows a good hive that has eaten the patty.  The new patty missed the cluster centre by a bit, as is obvious by the fact that the one side is eaten out and the other untouched.  Protein patties must be directly over the brood to be consumed reliably unless the colony is very, very strong.  A 1/3 sheet of blue shop towel can be seen at the back of the hive, where it will not kill the brood.  As mentioned here often, we don't scrape top bars.  We like the little wax bumps to hold the pillow up so the bees can come and go.  They seem to maintain a bee space and these wax deposits seldom grow beyond the optimal size.

We called our crew and told them to take the day off tomorrow.  It is too cold to do much outside with the bees, except move hives, perhaps.

Here is a private email I got today and since it is so good, I think I should share it.  I normally keep these messages anonymous unless the author specifically mentions that I can mention his/her name.

...I am happy with my two-queening, but there is room for improvement.

My system is a hybrid thing. I never buy packages, so keep my numbers up from in-house. These splits come from the 600 hives we winter outdoors. We have 700, mostly singles indoors, but they don't do well enough to split.

When we unwrap May 1, we have 20-25% dead or drone layers.  We put all these brood chambers on the booming hives in the yard. If there are larvae on the top bars of the bottom box when we unwrap, we put a 3rd brood chamber on it.

On June 1 we have the bottom box half full of bees and brood, the middle box wall to wall, and the top box half full. The middle box we take as a split, the old queen goes in the bottom box on the original bottom board, and the top box gets a new queen and also stays on the original bottom board.

As you might surmise, this is not a system for ultimate honey production. It keeps our numbers up, it keeps new queens in our hives, and it keeps the cash outflow to a minimum. We are able to maintain our numbers at 1,200 hives using this method.  If I was able to get $40 packages I would use them for my winter loss recovery.  By the time I decided that $1.50 honey might allow for $85 packages to recover their cost, they were unattainable. I am somewhat skeptical that honey will be $1.50, based solely on cynicism.

I am always disappointed in how many top (new) queens I lose from the two-queeners. I am entertaining the notion of setting the top queen off the hive sometime in late July, early August.  I would maintain a large field force for the flow with the old queen, but maybe save a few $17 queens in the process. 

This follows from my observation that my best singles out of my wintering building were nucs made with 1 or 2 frames of brood and a queen cell the last week of June. They didn't have huge populations going into winter, but I lost very few of them, and they are consistent at about 5 frames of bees when they came out of the building. (With this weather, I haven't gone through the hives in any more than a cursory manner)

We run with excluders, and queens in every brood chamber. If the unit won't support 2-queening we run it as a single. If it has 2 brood chambers but only 6-7 frames of brood on June 20, we make a nuc with a queen cell and set it aside. By July 10 we intend on having a queen laying in every brood chamber we have. As you can tell this is a one man type of ethereal, yet practical way of maintaining our colony count.

A truism we believe is that you can never have too many queens laying in a yard.


Link of 

the Day

Dadant's 4.9 mm foundation

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Today..Occasional snow. Wind increasing to east 30 km/h. High plus 2.
Tonight..Snow. Wind east 30. Low minus 8.
Normals for the period..Low 2. High 15.

Saturday May 4th, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

"Normals for the period.   Low 1. High 15".   That's the climate benchmark for  this date from Environment Canada.  We haven't been above the normals for more than a day here and there, and most of the time we have been well below normal -- around seven degrees, I would estimate.  Recent cool springs have made Global Warming look pretty much like a hoax to people around here.  In spite of that, the bees are coming along and surviving.  The lack of warm weather has kept them from wearing themselves out flying, but there have been enough days for them to get out on cleansing flights and to scout around.

We went to a wedding (Johnny & Julie) in Linden and got home around ten.  Jean and Chris are here for the wedding and staying over.


Links of 

the Day

Today..Mainly cloudy. Wind increasing to west 30 km/h this afternoon. High 8.
Tonight..Mainly cloudy with 60 percent chance of showers changing to flurries around midnight. Wind west 30 diminishing. Low minus 4.
Normals for the period..Low 1. High 15.

Friday May 3rd, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

We left Rosetown in a snowstorm.  At times the road was almost obscured by a complete whiteout, but fortunately, most of the time visibility was quite good, in spite of a strong north wind blowing snow across the road.  We stopped in Kindersley for steak and eggs, then drove to where I had left my car near Meijers without incident. 

We phoned ahead and I learned that we had three inches of snow at home, that it was warm now, and I also learned that lids had blown off three package bee hives in our home yard.  El & I decided that Paulo and Dennis should go and check some nearby yards to see if any lids were off there.  Usually lids are taken off by little twisters which are strictly a local thing, but it pays to check.

I drove home -- the car was still acting up -- and arrived around twelve-thirty.  When I arrived, Ellen was talking to Dennis on the phone. Apparently he had been forced off the road by an oncoming 4WD and had hit the soft shoulder.  He was stuck and he did not know where he was, exactly. 

I went looking  for him, found him quickly by a lucky guess, and pulled him out, using a heavy duty (40,000 pound test) recovery strap.  Those straps are excellent and allow a light truck like our 1/2 ton 4WD to pull out a much heavier truck.  The elastic nature of the nylon strap permits taking a quite a run to build momentum before the slack is taken up, and that makes all the difference compared to chain,  Chain is rigid and can do damage if allowed to get slack.

While I was away, El and Paulo checked about 50 of the packages and found that they had eaten their patties and have 2-1/2 frames with nice looking brood on average. Three are queenless.  They gave a second patty.  Apparently the patty consumption is about the same for the three types we used.  We tried comparing our normal patties with yeast only and BeePro only.  Each has the same 4% pollen and about 50% sugar by weight components besides the ingredients mentioned here.

Here is an interesting comparison.  The two bee yards shown at right are within two miles or so of one another.  One has 61% winter loss and the remaining bees look anywhere from poor to good. We went to 6 may4-2002b.jpg (48921 bytes)yards and found that the 61% loss was very consistent from yard to yard in the sites belonging to this beekeeper. We also lifted lids and looked into many of the hives in this outfit.

The other yard appears to have 100% success, and the bees look good.  We came across this yard while examining the other hives and, since the land was not posted, we couldn't resist taking a peek.  We did not look in more than a few hives, since the lids were glued down and we did not feel comfortable disturbing them.  The hives had been recently unwrapped and it seemed that the lids had not yet been removed, so we did not want to break the seal.  We looked, however for any signs of winter loss, like robbing stain, dead bees in front, etc. and concluded that there was very little, if any, loss apparent.

may4-2002c.jpg (42359 bytes)Why the difference?  Many factors could be involved, but, I guess it all comes down to management.  The first beekeeper had split heavily and perhaps late.  He had not gotten a crop either.  There seemed to be adequate feed in the hives, but we do not know when they were fed or wrapped.  Both operators appeared to be using a similar wrap style, although the second operator winters in three boxes and the former in two.  That should not make a big difference, unless the second uses two queens.  We wondered that since the thirds are a different colour.  The second operator also had bulldozed a special clearing in the bush for each yard we saw, so that the hives were level and extremely well sheltered.  The first operator had well-sheltered yards also, but in every case, the yards were open in at least one direction to the sweep of winter winds.

The second beekeeper also looks to be a very disciplined operator, with very tidy yards.  He also has a nice little storage house on each site for may4-2002-a.jpg (26471 bytes)his wraps and feeder pails.  That means he is not slowed down hauling bulky items around at critical times.  My companions surmised he must be a hobby beekeeper by the neatness and the storage shed, but when I enquired, I was told that the yards belong to a very large operator.  He obviously makes an investment up front and manages carefully to ensure good returns on his efforts.

In each yard we saw a protein feeder.  The first yard had a super with bottom nailed on and holes in the side to hold BeePro (shown at the far right of the photo) and the second has a commercially made protein dispenser, shown here.  Which is better?  I don't know.

  As always, click on any thumbnail picture to obtain a close-up. 

Today..A mix of sun and cloud. Wind north 20 km/h. High plus 2.
Tonight..Mainly cloudy with 30 percent chance of flurries. Wind becoming northeast 20. Low minus 6.
Normals for the period..Low 1. High 15.

Thursday May 2nd, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

In the morning we went for breakfast at Smitty's and there, in the restaurant, I found Rene and Kay.  I bump into them everywhere. 

After breakfast, we headed out to the auction.  We wanted to be there by nine to go out to look at hives before the auction started at eleven.  It was bitterly cold and I was very glad to have my winter jacket.  I had brought a veil and bee suit, but they were not needed.  The bees hardly flew, even after curious beekeepers repeatedly opened the same hives over and over.

The hives were pretty sad.  From what we tallied, there was 41% survival, and it was very consistent between yards.  There were some strong colonies, but also many weak in each yard.  The fact that the mercury was around freezing with a good breeze blowing did not make the bees look any better, either.

We went to most of the yards and then returned to the auction site.   By then there was a large crowd of familiar faces assembled and a lot of trucks and trailers.  The auction was very well attended in spite of the bad weather.  These events are as much as social occasion as a chance to buy equipment, and people come from far and wide.  We drove 711 kilometers just to visit and watch and exchange stories with our fellow beekeepers.  We had no intention of buying anything and were not particularly tempted.

The bidding started at eleven sharp.  Fraser Auction ran the show and they do a fine job.  It took a few hours to sell all the small junk, and since we had just come to watch, and since it was bitterly cold standing out there,  Joe, Oene and I drove up to Nipawin to get some trees they had ordered.  That trip took a few hours and when we returned, the hives were being auctioned off in the yards, so we headed out to meet the cavalcade of vehicles and witnessed the sale of several yards of bees.  They sold fast and for a good price.

At the last auction I attended -- in June 2001 -- better looking hives had gone very cheap -- down to $85 -- through no fault of the auctioneer, but this time the auctioneer wanted to be totally certain that buyers had every opportunity to see what they were buying and to bid on hives separately.  Although anyone could have taken the whole lot (241 hives) with the first bid, if desired, there was bidding in each yard, and hives went in lots of 10s, 20s and 50s.  I am very impressed with the job the auctioneers and their crew did of getting a fair price for buyer and seller alike.

Prices from the auction (listed below) are in Canadian Dollars, for cash money, and accurate as far as I can tell from what I saw, and what I was told. (I wasn't there the whole time)

  • Double Hives as shown below (mostly not great), as-is / where-is: $165 to $180 (most at $170-$175)
  • Singles (pretty poor): $50 to $70
  • Honey Supers (not bad, from what I could see): $32
  • Dry Dark Comb boxes (like what is shown for the live hives):$19
  • Dead-outs -- many with feed (like what is shown for the live hives): $28

Here are some auction pictures.  Click to enlarge

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We bought nothing, and left a little early, driving as far as Rosetown before calling it a day.


Links of 

the Day

Thursday..Sunny. Becoming cloudy in the afternoon. Wind increasing to west 30 gusting 50. High 18,
Tonight: Low minus 1. High 7.

Wednesday May 1st, 2002
Last year on this date       Year 2000 on this date

We have sun and half a degree of frost to start the day.  The probs are for warm weather, so I guess we'll check the packages today.  we'll also finish the north loop.  The next few days are promising warmer nights for a while -- the forecast has changed again -- and warm days, do maybe we'll see some bloom and maybe the bees can pull ahead a bit.  they have been building up somewhat, but real pollen and nectar will make a huge difference.

I notice that last year, the first dandelion was seen here on May first, and the previous year on the second.

At noon, I left for the auction to be held near Tisdale, Saskatchewan.  It was warm when I left and I got a 1/4 mile down the road before I realized I had left my jacket at home.  In May, in Alberta, you never leave home without a jacket, no matter how warm it is at the moment.  I went back for it, and a hat.  I was later very glad I had done so.

I met Meijers at a farm near the highway and left my car to ride with them.  Oene was very kind and let me ride in the front seat most of the way.  Joe drove.  They have two beautiful Dodge turbo diesel one ton trucks with extended cabs, an 1998 model and a 2000 model, if I recall.  This was the '98 unit.

We drove to Melfort and took motel rooms there. 

Today..A mix of sun and cloud. Wind becoming west 20 km/h this afternoon. High 16.
Tonight..Partly cloudy. Wind west 30 diminishing. Low 8.
Normals for the period..Low 1. High 15.

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