The Heatwave of July 1936


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 (Table 1).

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. Six record July temperatures set during this time still stand, including the hottest day on record with 108 on the 14th. The average high temperature for La Crosse during this stretch of extreme heat was 101.

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.

Location

Temperature

Date

Decorah, IA 

111

July 14

Mondovi, WI

110

July 14

New Hampton, IA

110

July 13

Richland Center, WI

110

July 14

Hatfield, WI

108

July 14

La Crosse, WI

108

July 14

Lancaster, WI

108

July 14

Rochester, MN

108

July 11 & 14

Viroqua, WI

108

July 13

Grand Meadow, MN

106

July 14

Mather, WI

106

July 14

Medford, WI

104

July 13

Table 1. All-time record high temperatures set in July 1936.


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