Terry’s Take: July 1936, the mother of all heat waves!
77 years ago at this very time, the Quad Cities was suffering through a record breaking heat wave that scorched the Midwest. From July 5th to July 11th, 1936, the temperature reached 100°F and above for a record eleven consecutive days.
Making matters worse was the fact people had to cope with the extreme heat without the benefit of air-conditioning. Still 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 too stifling. At least 70 Quad City residents died from heat related issues making this the worst natural disaster to ever impact the community.
The all-time high (and high minimum) temperatures for the Quad Cities were recorded on July 14th when the mercury at the Federal Building in downtown Davenport reached a sizzling 111.3°F and only dropped to a low of 84°F. Upon its conclusion, 1936 ended up being the warmest summer on record in the Quad Cities with an average temperature of 78.8 degrees. July was also the warmest of any individual month with an average temperature of 85 degrees. None of those records have been remotely challenged in the 77 years since.
The “Dust Bowl” years of 1930-36 were responsible for producing many of the hottest summers on record in 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.
Several factors led to the deadly heat of early July 1936:
- A series of droughts effected 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 such as we experienced in July of 2012.
Wow, what a summer 1936 was! Despite talk of global warming in recent decades, this heat wave and others in the “Dirty Thirties” still greatly outrank anything that has
occurred since 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.