The Mid July 2011 Central US Heat Wave

Left: surface temperatures analyzed at 2pm CDT on July 17, 2011. Right: surface dew points analyzed at 2pm on July 17, 2011. The combination of high moisture levels and hot temperatures produced a large heat wave across the central United States in mid July 2011.

This web page will continue to be updated with additional information over the next several days as we compile some more statistics about the heat wave that impacted the area in mid July.

Fast Facts

  • The 73 degree low temperature at Duluth on July 17, 2011 set a new daily record for highest minimum temperature. The previous record was 72 in 1975.
  • The 92 degree high temperature at Duluth on July 18, 2011 was tied as the 5th highest maximum temperature at Duluth since 1996. It was the warmest high temperature since 95 degrees was recorded on July 31, 2006.
  • July 16 to July 20, 2011 was the 10th hottest five day stretch at the Duluth Airport (since 1950). This was determined by using the average temperature. In this case, the average temperature was 77.3 degrees for those five days. The record is 79.4 degrees from August 4-8, 2001.
  • The 93 degree high temperature at International Falls on July 18, 2011 was tied as the 3rd highest maximum temperature at International Falls since 1996. It was the warmest high temperature since 95 degrees was recorded on August 18, 2003.
  • The 77 degree dew point measured on July 17, 2011 at Duluth is unofficially tied as the second highest dew point measured at the Duluth Airport since 1979.
  • July 20, 2011 was unofficially only the sixth day in the past 32 years that the heat index has reached 100 degrees at Duluth.



On Sunday, July 17th, heat index values rose to between 100 and 115 degrees across much of the NWS Duluth area of responsibility. Temperatures were in the upper 80s to low 90s, while dew points were unusually high - mostly in the upper 70s and low 80s. The combination of hot air temperatures and large amounts of low level moisture led to the dangerously high heat index values. The highest heat index recorded in our area on the 17th was 118 degrees, just northeast of Hayward, Wisconsin in the town of Seeley. The maximum heat index that day at the Duluth airport was 98 degrees, and the highest dew point observed was 77 degrees.

Hourly observations were available to search for Duluth back to 1979. The highest dew point observed at Duluth since 1979 was 78 degrees, which occurred on August 24, 2003. In fact, a dew point of 77 or 78 degrees has only been reported 6 times in the last 32 years at Duluth prior to July 17, 2011 (on four different days). Note that dew point values are not officially tracked, so this is an unofficial record.

Highest Dew Points at Duluth since 1979
Date Hour(s) Dew Point
8/24/2003 2pm, 3pm 78 F
7/17/2011 4pm, 5pm, 6pm, 7pm 77 F
8/6/2001 2am 77 F
8/1/2001 1pm 77 F
6/22/1983 5pm, 6pm 77 F

Above is a table of the highest dew points on hourly observations at the Duluth airport since 1979. The 77 degree dew point was the 2nd highest recorded at Duluth since 1979.

On July 18th, a weak area of high pressure in southern Canada pushed a slightly drier air mass into the area from the north. Dew points across extreme northern Minnesota fell into the 50s during the afternoon, while temperatures soared into the lower 90s. Therefore, it was still a hot day in parts of the Arrowhead, and north of the Iron Range, but heat index values did not reach dangerous levels. Further to the south, low-level moisture persisted longer, and thus heat index values rose above 100 degrees once again, particularly along and south of U.S. Highway 2. The highest heat index values were around 115 near the St. Croix River in Burnett County, and near some of the inland lakes of Crow Wing County, Minnesota.

On July 19th, persistent thunderstorm activity and cloud cover suppressed a warm front mainly south of the area. It was a cooler day across northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin. Some severe weather occurred across the area as well, mostly in the form of damaging winds.

On July 20th, hot and humid conditions returned to the area once again as the warm front pushed north into Ontario. High temperatures were generally in the upper 80s to low 90s, with dew points rising into the mid 70s again at many locations. The result was that most locations away from Lake Superior experienced heat index values peaking between 100 and 110 degrees. The maximum heat index at the Duluth Airport was 100 degrees. As the chart below shows, that is not a common occurrence at Duluth. Only five other days in at least the past 32 years have experienced a heat index of 100 degrees or more. Note that heat index values are not officially tracked, so this is an unofficial record.

Triple Digit Heat Indices at Duluth since 1979
Date Hour(s) with HI at least 100
Max Heat Index
7/7/1988 5 hours 103 F
8/5/2001 5 hours 102 F
7/3/1990 1 hour 102 F
8/16/1988 1 hour 101 F
7/20/2011 2 hours 100 F
7/6/1988 1 hour 100 F

13 of the 18 counties in the NWS Duluth area of responsibility had at least one observation with a heat index of 110 degrees or higher during the heat wave, which lasted from July 16-20, 2011. Additionally, over half of the observation sites we examined (61/111, 55%) recorded at least one instance of a dew point of at least 80 degrees.

We have created maps using GIS software of the highest observed heat indices and dew points across our area. The creation of the map may have smoothed out some isolated extremes, but the overall pattern is captured.

Not all the stations used in creating the map are maintained by the NWS, and therefore their absolute data quality cannot be guaranteed. However, all of the observations were quality controlled to eliminate values that were erroneously high or low before the analysis was done. A listing of the data, along with the source of the observations, is available below in a PDF format.

Download a PDF table of the highest heat index values and dew points from across our area during the duration of the heat wave (click here) - 298KB

Below is an animation of approximate high temperatures, as forecast by the NAM model, during the heat wave from the NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory:


What Is The "Heat Index"?

National Weather Service heat-related products are based on the heat index. The heat index is basically a measure of how hot it really feels, when factoring relative humidity into the air temperature. For the same given temperature, more humid conditions will result in a higher heat index value. The heat index is sometimes referred to by meteorologists as the "apparent temperature".

Heat Index Calculator

It should be noted that heat index relationships were devised for shady conditions with light winds. Exposure to sunlight can make it feel another 15 degrees hotter than the reported heat index value. The risk of heat related illnesses increases quickly for heat index values above 100 degrees, although long stretches with slightly lower values can have similar effects.


Miscellaneous Links


Other NWS Office Web Pages On The Heat Wave is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.