1936 Heat Wave

posted in: Michigan Weather Forecast, Slim | 13

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.


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Jeff (Portland)
Jeff (Portland)

More above normal temps on the way. More 90s on the way.

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

I love the photo image on the post of the weather girl wearing a mask! Keep up the good work! I love it and mask up people and save lives! What a concept!


But then again that’s a real heat wave 1936 nothing compared to this weeks mini rave Currently dropped down to 63* degrees overnight out at thee YARDofBRICKS NE of GR refreshing air at some point I turned the fan off no need for it today’s 83* will be perfect I’m going to the store grabbing a 30pk of Sprites and going to enjoy this beautiful Saturday sights with only 53 more days to September soon it will be August before we know it great Scotty Have a great Saturday ..INDY


We received 1.14 inches of rain total from the Thursday night/Friday morning system which was the first rain we had for 13 days. The early 20th century was not a fun time with one issue after another. We had WWI, the Spanish flu, the Great depression and the heat wave followed by WWII. The second half of the 20th century was pretty tame compared to the first half. I remember the days we didn’t have air conditioning. We survived without much whining, though uncomfortably. Looking back through the past 100 years or so I consider us lucky folk. God bless… Read more »

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

Thank God for Whitmer! Masks baby! I love it!


I am thinking we start the mask militia – stand in front of the stores in camo and legal guns and hand out masks. Just kidding of course. Many aren’t going to heed this – it will be a good source of revenue if we had enough police to enforce it.


I will support my local neighborhood liquor store more now then ever he doesn’t give a crap about people coming in with mask on he just says how you doing and wants your money lol! Just tell public places you have a medical condition they can’t force you to have one on they can tell you not to come in to the establishment though then you go spend your money somewhere else not a big deal like my local neighborhood liquor store ….it’s unconstitutional for our governor to make you wear a mask she can try to prevent it all… Read more »

Rocky (Rockford)
Rocky (Rockford)

If I were running a business I would not allow any customer in my establishment unless that were wearing a mask and wearing it appropriately! Please take your business elsewhere if you are that reckless and don’t care about other citizens! I would say good riddance and don’t come back! You will gain more customers by keeping out the inconsiderate people!

Barry in Zeeland
Barry in Zeeland

Thanks Slim! I know records aren’t kept for dew points, but I would imagine the heat back during the Dust Bowl days was a dryer heat than we have today. The lack of vegetation would mean less moisture in the air, thus lower dew points. With the vast corn fields today pumping out tons of water vapor, it makes it difficult to top 100 anymore. Instead we get crazy humid days.