1936 North American heat wave
The 1936 North American heat wave was the most severe heat wave in the modern history of North America. It took place in the middle of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and caused catastrophic human suffering and an enormous economic toll. The death toll exceeded 5,000, and huge numbers of crops were destroyed by the heat and lack of moisture. Many state and city record high temperatures set during the 1936 heat wave stood until the Summer 2012 North American heat wave. The 1936 heat wave followed one of the coldest winters on record.
The heat wave started in late June, when temperatures across the US exceeded 100 °F (38 °C). The Midwest experienced some of the highest June temperatures on record. Drought conditions worsened. In the Northeast, temperatures climbed to the mid 90s °F (around 35 °C). The South and West started to heat up also, and also experienced drought. The heat wave began to extend into Canada. Moderate to extreme drought covered the entire continent. The dry and exposed soil contributed directly to the heat as happens normally in desert areas as the extreme heat entered the air by radiation and direct contact. Reports at the time and explored in the definitive works on the Dust Bowl told of soil temperatures reaching in excess of 200 °F (93 °C) at the four inch/10 cm level in regions of the Dust Bowl; such soil temperatures were sufficient to sterilize the soil by killing nitrogen-fixing bacteria and other microbes, delivering the final blow in the declining fertility of that soil which had not already blown away.[dubious ]
July was the peak month, in which temperatures reached all-time record levels—many of which still stand as of 2012. In Steele, North Dakota, temperatures reached 121 °F (49 °C), which remains North Dakota's record. In Ohio, temperatures reached 110 °F (43 °C), which nearly tied the previous record set in 1934. The states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Nebraska, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and New Jersey also experienced record high temperatures. The provinces of Ontario and Manitoba set still-standing record highs above 110 °F (43 °C). Chicago Midway airport recorded 100 °F (38 °C) or higher temperatures on 12 consecutive days from July 6–17, 1936. Later that summer in downstate Illinois, at Mount Vernon the temperature surpassed 100 °F (38 °C) for 18 days running from August 12–29, 1936.
Some stations in the American Midwest reported minimum temperatures at or above 90 °F (32 °C) such as 91 °F (33 °C) at Lincoln, Nebraska on July 25, 1936; the next and most recent time this is known to have happened is a handful of 90 °F (32 °C) minimums during a similar heat wave in late June 1988 but far less intense than that of 1936. The highest nightly low temperature outside of the desert south-west was 94 °F (34 °C) at Atchison, Kansas during the heat wave of July 1934.
August was the warmest month on record for five states. Many experienced long stretches of daily maximum temperatures 100 °F (38 °C) or warmer. Drought conditions worsened in some locations. Some states were only slightly above average.
The heat wave and drought largely ended in September, though many states were still drier and warmer than average. Many farmers' summer harvests were destroyed. Grounds and lawns remained parched. Annual temperatures returned to normal in the fall.
Effect on the environment
As many as 5,000 heat related deaths were reported in the United States, and 780 direct and 400 indirect deaths in Canada. Many people suffered from heat stroke and heat exhaustion, particularly the elderly. Unlike today, air conditioning was in the early stages of development and was therefore absent from houses and commercial buildings. Many of the deaths occurred in high population density areas of Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toronto and other urban areas. Farmers across the continent saw crop failure, causing corn and wheat prices to rise quickly. Droughts and heat waves were common in the 1930s. The 1930s are remembered as the driest and warmest decade for the US (the Dust Bowl years) and the summer of 1936 was the most widespread and destructive heat wave to occur in the Americas in centuries.
- "Brutal July heat a new U.S. record". Cable News Network. August 8, 2012. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
The average temperature across the Lower 48 was 77.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 3.3 degrees above the 20th-century average, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration reported. That edged out the previous high mark, set in 1936, by two-tenths of a degree, NOAA said.
- Cantor, George (4 August 1996). "Detroit's killer heat wave of 1936". The Detroit News.
This one was different, though, not only in the number it killed but in the very intensity of the heat. Records for high temperatures set during that summer still stand in 15 states, including Michigan. In Kansas and North Dakota, it reached 121 degrees, marks surpassed in this country only in the deserts of the Southwest.
- "The Heatwave of July 1936". National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
- Phillips, David. "Heat Wave". The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Historica-Dominion Institute. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
- Kohler, J. P. (1937). "Weather of 1936 in the United States". Monthly Weather Review 65 (1): 12–16. Bibcode:1937MWRv...65...12K. doi:10.1175/1520-0493(1937)65<12:WOITUS>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 1520-0493.