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July 1936 Greatest Heat Wave

Posted 7/18/06

Seventy years ago this month, the greatest heat wave since records have been
kept in the U.S. and Canada occurred. At its peak, 100 degree plus heat covered
the Great Plains, Midwest, South, and much of the Northeast, as well as the
provinces of Manitoba and Ontario, Canada. At times the heat even spread into
the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. With air conditioning in its infancy,
it was only available in some movie theaters, large department stores and other
public places, and not in homes at all. Many people were forced to sleep in
their yards or in parks when their homes became stifling. The death toll ranks
this as one of the deadliest weather disasters on record in the U.S. and in
Canada. About 5,000 people are estimated to have died from the effects of the
heat in the U.S. during 1936, most of them during this event. The heat was
especially deadly in large Midwestern cities such as St. Louis, Minneapolis and
Detroit. A death toll of 780 is often mentioned for Canada. Yet, this event is rarely mentioned by the U.S. media, probably because heat waves are silent killers and don't cause massive property destruction. It seems to be better remembered in Canada.

My parents, who are in their late 70s, still mention this heat wave. My dad
lived on the northwest side of Chicago and temperatures in his neighborhood
reached as high as 106. Sitting in the basement looking at comic books was his
way to beat the heat! In Chicago, people were also able to go to the lakefront
for relief. My mom grew up in the Philadelphia area, where temperatures reached
104. She was unable to sleep for days in the stifling heat.

The July 1936 heat wave set all-time record highs in 12 states, two Canadian
provinces and countless cities. It began around the 4th of July in the Great
Plains states and the worst part of it lasted for two weeks in the Midwest. On
the East Coast, it lasted for about four days. In Canada, the intense heat
lasted seven or eight days in most places. Here is a day-by-day account of
records set (all temperatures are all-time record highs which still stand):

July 5, 1936
South Dakota state record, 120 at Gann Valley

July 6
Minnesota state record, 114 at Moorhead
North Dakota state record, 121 at Steele (Wow!!)
Bismarck, ND 114
Fargo, ND 114
Aberdeen, SD 115

July 7
Traverse City, MI 105

July 8
Toronto, Ont. Canada 105
Flint, MI 108

July 9
New York City (Central Park) 106
Syracuse, NY 102
Rochester, NY 102
Scranton, PA 103
Williamsport, PA 106
Youngstown, OH 103
Toronto 105 tied record

July 10
Maryland state record, 109 at Cumberland and Frederick
New Jersey state record, 110 at Runyon
Pennsylvania state record, 111 at Phoenixville
West Virginia state record, 112 at Martinsburg
Baltimore 107
Lynchburg, VA 106
Lexington, KY 108
Toronto 105 (three days in a row!!)

July 11
Manitoba provincial record, 112 at Treesbank
Brandon, Man. Canada 110
Winnipeg, Man. 108
Norway House, Man. 101 (at north end of Lake Winnipeg, northernmost 100 degree
reading in this heat wave)
Minot, ND 109

July 12
Manitoba provincial record tied, 112 at Emerson
Kapuskasing, Ont. Canada 101
Grand Forks, ND 109

July 13
Michigan state record, 112 at Mio
Wisconsin state record, 114 at Wisconsin Dells
Ontario provincial record, 108 at Atikokan and Fort Frances
Duluth, MN 106 (Wow!!)
Eau Claire, WI 111
Green Bay, WI 104
Waterloo, IA 112
Evansville, IN 108
Grand Rapids, MI 108
Saginaw, MI 111

July 14
Indiana state record, 116 at Collegeville
Terre Haute, IN 110
Toledo, OH 105
Rockford, IL 112
Moline, IL 111
Dubuque, IA 110
Madison, WI 107
Minneapolis, MN 108
Rochester, MN 108
Average high at 113 stations in Iowa 108.7

July 15
Peoria, IL 113
Quincy, IL 114
Kirksville, MO 113
Lexington, KY 108 (tied record from 7/10)

July 16
Mobridge, SD 116

July 17
Norfolk, NE 116

After a break for a few days, the heat intensified again in the central Plains:

July 24
Kansas state record, 121 at Alton and Fredonia
Nebraska state record, 118 at Minden
Grand Island, NE 117
Topeka, KS 114

July 25
Lincoln, NE 115
Omaha, NE 114

More records were set in August!

August 10
Arkansas state record, 120 at Ozark
Louisiana state record, 114 at Plain Dealing
Fort Smith, AR 113
Texarkana, AR 117
Tulsa, OK 115

August 11
Oklahoma City, OK 113

August 12
Wichita, KS 114

August 13
Concordia, KS 116
Salina, KS 118

August 14
Kansas City, MO 113

Wow!! What a summer! Despite global warming in recent decades, this heat wave
and others in the "Dirty Thirties" still greatly outrank anything that has
occurred in recent years in the Great Plains and Midwest. This shows that we do
need to be cautious about attributing heat waves and other extreme weather
events to global warming.


In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]

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