We have just had the heat wave of 2020 but lets take a look back at a Heat Wave that set many record highs in much of the US.
The “Dust Bowl” years of 1930-36 brought some of the hottest summers on record to the United States, especially across the Plains, Upper Midwest and Great Lake States. For the Upper Mississippi River Valley, the first few weeks of July 1936 provided the hottest temperatures of that period, including many all-time record highs.
The string of hot, dry days was also deadly. Nationally, around 5000 deaths were associated with the heat wave.
In La Crosse, WI, there were 14 consecutive days (July 5th-18th) where the high temperature was 90 degrees or greater, and 9 days that were at or above 100°F. Six record July temperatures set during this time still stand, including the hottest day on record with 108°F on the 14th. The average high temperature for La Crosse during this stretch of extreme heat was 101°F, and the mean temperature for the month finished at 79.5°F – 2nd highest on record.
Several factors led to the deadly heat of July 1936:
- A series of droughts affected the U.S. during the early 1930s. The lack of rain parched the earth and killed vegetation, especially across the Plains states.
- Poor land management (farming techniques) across the Plains furthered the impact of the drought, with lush wheat fields becoming barren waste lands.
- Without the vegetation and soil moisture, the Plains acted as a furnace. The climate of that region took on desert qualities, accentuating its capacity to produce heat.
- A strong ridge of high pressure set up over the west coast and funneled the heat northward across the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes.
As a result of the “Dust Bowl”, new farming methods and techniques were developed, along with a focus on soil conservation. This has helped to avert or minimize the impact of a prolonged drought.
Interestingly, February 1936 remains the coldest February on record for the contiguous U.S., with an average nationwide temperature of 25.2°F. (The single coldest month on record was January 1977, with a 21.9°F average.) Temperatures fell as low as –60°F in North Dakota, an all-time state record. Turtle Lake, North Dakota averaged –19.4°F for the entire month, the coldest average temperature ever recorded in the contiguous United States for any month. One town in North Dakota, Langdon, stayed below 0°F for 41 consecutive days (from January 11 to February 20), the longest stretch below zero (including maximum temperatures) ever endured at any site in the lower 48.
With this in mind, it is truly astonishing what occurred the following summer. In North Dakota, where temperatures had dipped to –60°F on February 15, 1936, at Parshall, it hit 121°F at Steele by July 6. The two towns are just 110 miles from one another!
Here is a list of all time state records set in July of 1936
Indiana: 116°F (Collegeville, July 14)
Iowa*: 117°F (Atlantic and Logan, July 25)
Kansas: 121°F (Fredonia, July 18, and Alton, July 24)
Maryland: 109°F (Cumberland and Frederick, July 10)
Michigan: 112°F (Mio, July 13)
Minnesota: 114°F (Moorhead, July 6)
Missouri: 118°F (Clinton, July 15, and Lamar, July 18)
Nebraska: 118°F (Hartington, July 17, and Minden, July 24)
New Jersey: 110°F (Runyon, July 10)
North Dakota: 121°F (Steele, July 6)
Oklahoma: 120°F (Alva, July 18, and Altus, July 19)
Pennsylvania: 111°F (Phoenixville, July 10)
West Virginia: 112°F (Martinsburg, July 10)
Wisconsin: 114°F (Wisconsin Dells, July 13)
At Grand Rapids the month of July 1936 started out below average the first 5 days the highs were only from 74 to 82. On the 6th the high was a warm 89. But then on the 7 the temperature shot up to 98 then up to 101 on the 8th and 9th 102 on the 10th dropped all the way down to 99 on the 11th back up to 106 on the 12th a record 108 on the 13th then back down to 102 on the 14th before dropping all the way down to 86 on the 15th The lows during this time were very hot with lows in the mid to upper 70’s.
Kalamazoo was even hotter with highs of 101 on the 7th 104 on the 8th 102 on the 9th 103 on the 10th 102 on the 11th 105 on the 12th 109 on the 13th 108 on the 14th 103 on the 15th 97 on the 16th 95 on the 17th 93 on the 18th and down to 89 on the 19th The 9 days of 100 or better is a Michigan record.
On of the odd things is that over at Lansing while they had 8 days of 90 or better only one was above 100 that being 101 on the 14th
And at Muskegon they had no real Heat Wave at all with the warmest day that July being just 89 and on July 10th while both GR and Kalamazoo were over 100 it was just reported as 78 there.
So while much of Michigan had record highs in the 1936 heat wave there were also areas that did not have the record heat.