Heat Wave | KC History (2023)

In the midst of a sweltering summer heat wave, the temperature reached a record-high 113 degrees Fahrenheit in Kansas City on August 14, 1936. These high temperatures in the summer of 1936 remain the most extreme in modern North American history. Compounding the problem, virtually no one had air conditioning in their own homes in the 1930s. The consequence was a nationwide death toll of between 4,500 and 5,000 lives lost, making it among the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. For its part, Kansas City merely coped as best as it could.

Refuge from the heat was decidedly hard to come by. Many area residents spent several nights in the cooler areas of Swope Park, the mall of Liberty Memorial, and Penn Valley Park. A popular option in the afternoon and evening was to attend the movies, where many of the theaters were air conditioned. The price was about 10 cents for a matinee and 40 cents for an evening show. Other businesses offered cool sanctuaries, such as the special air conditioned rooms at the Wolferman's grocery stores, to paying customers. The city's poorer residents had difficulty affording the ice produced at local factories, which prompted the Salvation Army to raise money for "Penny Ice" to be sold for a penny per pound to the needy. The doctors' advice, as reported in the local newspapers, was that, "[the] cardinal rule on combating the heat is to forget it, remain detached."


Former Mayor Illus Davis recalled in 1986 that the heat 50 years before was, "sort of unreal... you just sat around and talked about the heat." Davis also recounted using wet rags to cool his car's steering wheel in the afternoon and even his bed at night. Sharing his concern were hundreds of people who frequently called the local weather bureau to inquire about the official temperature. On the hottest day of the heat wave, August 14, they called at a rate of 300 times each hour and overwhelmed the workers who had to answer the phones. At 2 p.m., a fire broke out one half-mile from Swope Park. It was undoubtedly the result of the extended drought and heat, but fortunately firefighters were able to contain it.

The hottest day in Kansas City history played one last cruel trick just after 4 p.m., when a thunderstorm brewed in the sky, bringing the hope of a cooling rain. Instead, the clouds produced lightening, a trace amount of rainfall, and a modest drop in temperature to a still-toasty 96 degrees. On the following day, temperatures returned to an excess of 100 degrees. The local heat wave was only half over. In all, there were 16 straight days of 100 degree temperatures that August and a total of 53 non-consecutive 100 degree days that summer.

While the high temperatures were the most prolonged in 1936, it was not the only notable heat wave in Kansas City's history. During a heat wave and drought in 1934, much of the livestock at the stockyards had to be shot because 1,500 workers went on strike and the animals lacked water. On July 14, 1954, in the middle of another protracted heat wave, temperatures hovered at 98 degrees even after 10:30 p.m. By then, air conditioning was starting to become popular in private homes, for those who could afford it. The number of portable air conditioning units in the city doubled to 30,000 that summer. Other residents sought refuge in the parks, as they had in the past.

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The city's most severe heat wave since 1936 occurred in 1980. Roughly 40 percent of residents still did not have air conditioning, and the Kansas City metropolitan area suffered a shocking 176 heat-related deaths. Unlike 1934, 1936, and 1954, many locals feared spending the night in the parks because of the potential for crime. The tragedy became clear at the peak of the heat wave, when rescue crews discovered bodies at the rate of one per hour. Many area hospitals, morgues, and mortuaries were literally overwhelmed with victims. In the 44 years since Kansas City's highest single-day temperature, human ingenuity still could not mitigate the effects of a severe heat wave. It is a lesson that the city has had to learn repeatedly, even though temperatures have never again reached the 113 degree mark set on August 14, 1936.

View images relating to Kansas City's heat waves that are a part of the Missouri Valley Special Collections:

  • Salvation Army truck; delivering ice to a crowd of people during the 1930s.
  • Delivery Truck with raised platform, City Ice Company, 1932.
  • Fleet of Delivery Trucks, City Ice Company, 1932.
  • Postcard of Spring Fountain on Cliff Drive in North Terrace Park; site where Kansas Citians collected water in the early 20th century, accompanied by a brief historical article.
  • Postcard of Petticoat Lane, East from Main Street; shows the awnings that were commonly used to keep the city's storefronts cooler.
  • Auerbach Residence after the 1934 drought, by Frank Lauder.
  • Harry C. Alley Residence after the 1934 drought, by Frank Lauder.

Check out the following books and articles about Kansas City's heat waves, held by the Kansas City Public Library:

  • "Remember KC's Hottest Summer? Residents Sweltered in Disbelief in 1936," in The Kansas City Times, August 14, 1986.
  • "History has lots of Chapter on Hot Times in KC," by Lindsay Hanson, in The Kansas City Star, July 24, 2005.
  • "Before Air Conditioning, Heat Shaped KC's Life, Look," by Brian Burnes, in The Kansas City Star, September 5, 2000.
  • "Mother Hubbards," in the Missouri Historical Society Bulletin, October 1970; reprint of an 1886 article about women's dresses and the summer heat, pp. 1-13.
  • "Drought: Uncle Sam Looks at His Lean Larder and Acts to Hold Prices Down, Hoarders Off, Gouger In, and Spirits Up," News-Week, August 18, 1934; about the 1934 drought and heat wave with a peak temperature of 108 degrees, pp. 5-6.
  • "Early Day Weather Documented in Society Archives," in the Jackson County Historical Society Journal, January 1978, pp. 1-9.
  • "Hot Days Can Harm Elderly," in The Kansas City Times, July 3, 1985; references the 1980 heat wave.
  • "The Dust Is Blowing in Kansas," by Kenneth S. Davis, in the New Republic, August 9, 1954, pp. 13-15.
  • "A Long, Hot Summer," by Peter R. Chaston, in Weatherwise, February 1984, pp. 18-19.
  • "Weather Information," in The Kansas City Star, July 2, 1941.
  • "Starving Kansas: The Great Drought and Famine of 1859-60," by Joseph G. Gambone, in American West, July 1971, pp. 30-35.
  • "Drought: Field Reports from Five of the States Most Seriously Affected," by Marquis W. Childs, in the New Republic, February 25, 1931, pp. 37-39.

Continue researching heat waves using archival materials from the Missouri Valley Special Collections:

  • Vertical File: Knox County, Missouri; contains materials about the 1953 drought in Edina, Missouri.

References:

Lisa Massoch, "Remember KC's Hottest Summer? Residents Sweltered in Disbelief in 1936," The Kansas City Times, August 14, 1986; contains quotation of former Mayor Illus Davis.

(Video) The deadliest heat wave in Canada killed almost 1,200 people in 1936 - This Day In Weather History

Lindsay Hanson, "History has lots of Chapter on Hot Times in KC," The Kansas City Star, July 24, 2005; contains quotation about doctors' advice.

Brian Burnes, "Before Air Conditioning, Heat Shaped KC's Life, Look," The Kansas City Star, September 5, 2000.

Calvin Wilson, "Different Year, Same Stories - Headlines in 1936 Mirror Today's," The Kansas City Star, August 31, 2000.

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Jason Roe, digital history specialist at the Kansas City Public Library, is content manager and editor for the websites, Civil War on the Western Border and The Pendergast Years: Kansas City in the Jazz Age and Great Depression, and author of the "This Week in Kansas City History" column. He co-authored, with Drs. Diane Muttie Burke and John Herron, Wide-Open Town: Kansas City in the Pendergast Era (University Press of Kansas, 2018). Prior to joining the Library, he earned his Ph.D. in American history from the University of Kansas in May 2012.

(Video) What's causing the current heatwave? | Inside Story

(Video) What makes this heat wave different from past heat waves?

FAQs

How did the heat wave start? ›

A heatwave occurs when a system of high atmospheric pressure moves into an area and lasts two or more days. In such a high-pressure system, air from upper levels of our atmosphere is pulled toward the ground, where it becomes compressed and increases in temperature.

What caused the heat wave of 1936? ›

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.

When did heatwaves start? ›

Heatwaves over land have become more frequent and more intense since the 1950s due to climate change in almost all world regions. Furthermore, heat waves are more likely to occur simultaneously with droughts. Marine heatwaves have also increased in frequency, with a doubling since 1980.

Why is it so hot lately 2022? ›

Most climate divisions in the US experienced days when high temperatures were being made more likely because of climate change. Along the coast of Texas, for example, more than 60 days this summer had temperatures found to be influenced by climate change.

What is causing the heat wave 2022? ›

India Heatwave Breaks Temperature Records. The average maximum temperature across India in March 2022 was 33.1˚C. Experts say climate change is to blame.

Is 2022 the hottest year on record? ›

Per NOAA's data, 2022 has been the sixth-warmest year on record from January through August, with a global average temperature 1.55 degrees higher than the 20th-century average. Of the annual records, 2016 remains the warmest, but there is a less than 0.1 percent chance that 2022 manages to exceed that warmth.

What year was the longest heat wave? ›

The longest heatwave on recorded was in 1930 and lasted more than three weeks! Not only was this a long heatwave, but it was very intense with 10 100 degree days recorded in the 23-day span!

Why did heat waves become popular? ›

On the UK Singles Chart the single originally peaked at number 19 in the first half of 2021. After its inclusion in the EA Sports video game FIFA 21 and wide usage as backing music in various TikTok videos, the song re-entered at number 18 in September 2021 and continued to climb into the top 5.

How long did the 1980 heat wave last? ›

The area saw 29 days in which the previous record high temperature was either broken or tied, including its all-time high when the temperature hit 113 °F (45 °C) on three consecutive days (June 26 and 27 at DFW Airport and June 28 at Dallas Love Field). Some 43% of American homes were without air conditioning in 1980.

Why was the 1930s so hot? ›

The 1930s were characterized by sustained periods of drought, strong high pressure systems, and soil-vegetation conditions that amplified the hot-dry condition, according to the National Weather Service. Many all-time record highs here in the South can traced back to the 1930s as well. So yes, the 1930s were hot.

What is the hottest A human can survive? ›

It is commonly held that the maximum temperature at which humans can survive is 108.14-degree Fahrenheit or 42.3-degree Celsius. A higher temperature may denature proteins and cause irreparable damage to brain. Simply put, the human body can turn into a scrambled egg.

What is the hottest A human can live in? ›

How does – or doesn't – your body cope in extreme situations? The maximum body temperature a human can survive is 108.14°F. At higher temperatures the body turns into scrambled eggs: proteins are denatured and the brain gets damaged irreparably.

What was hottest day ever? ›

What is the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth? The highest temperature on record belongs to California's Death Valley which, in 1913, reached a temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit, or 56.7 degrees Celsius, Al Jazeera reports.

How hot will the Earth be in 2030? ›

AUnderstanding Global Warming of 1.5°C*

warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

How hot will the world be in 2050? ›

Global temperature is projected to warm by about 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7° degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050 and 2-4 degrees Celsius (3.6-7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.

How hot will the US be in 2050? ›

They predict that in three decades, more than 100 million Americans will live in an “extreme heat belt” where at least one day a year, the heat index temperature will exceed 125° Fahrenheit (52° Celsius) — the top level of the National Weather Service's heat index, or the extreme danger level.

How hot will the Earth be in 2040? ›

The report warns that, by 2040, global temperatures are expected to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, meaning that most people alive today will see the dramatic effects of climate change within their lifetime.

How hot will the Earth be in the future? ›

Results from a wide range of climate model simulations suggest that our planet's average temperature could be between 2 and 9.7°F (1.1 to 5.4°C) warmer in 2100 than it is today. The main reason for this temperature increase is carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping “greenhouse” gases that human activities produce.

Is 2022 going to be an El Nino year? ›

The WMO El Niño/La Niña Update predicts the continuation of the current La Niña over the next six months, with a 70% chance in September-November 2022 but gradually decreasing to 55% in December-February 2022/2023.

What are the 7 warmest years on record? ›

The warmest seven years have all been since 2015, with 2016, 2019 and 2020 constituting the top three. An exceptionally strong El Niño event occurred in 2016, which contributed to record global average warming. “Back-to-back La Niña events mean that 2021 warming was relatively less pronounced compared to recent years.

What have been the 3 warmest years on record? ›

Warmest years
RankYearAnomaly °C
120161.00
220200.98
320190.95
420150.93
6 more rows

How long it will be until the next ice age? ›

Predicted changes in orbital forcing suggest that the next glacial period would begin at least 50,000 years from now. Moreover, anthropogenic forcing from increased greenhouse gases is estimated to potentially outweigh the orbital forcing of the Milankovitch cycles for hundreds of thousands of years.

Is it hotter now than 20 years ago? ›

Earth's temperature has risen by 0.14° Fahrenheit (0.08° Celsius) per decade since 1880, but the rate of warming since 1981 is more than twice that: 0.32° F (0.18° C) per decade. 2021 was the sixth-warmest year on record based on NOAA's temperature data.

How hot will it be in 100 years? ›

Increases in average global temperatures are expected to be within the range of 0.5°F to 8.6°F by 2100, with a likely increase of at least 2.7°F for all scenarios except the one representing the most aggressive mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Will we have another ice age? ›

By itself, this will delay the next Ice Age by at least 50,000 years. Add in the effect of man-made global warming, and the delay is increased to 100,000 years. Read more: Is global warming preventing the next ice age?

How hot will it be this summer 2022? ›

On average, we're predicting summer temperatures to be hotter than normal across most of the country, ranging from the Atlantic Corridor south to Florida, across to the West Coast, and almost everywhere in between.

Are heat waves increasing? ›

Climate change is increasing the frequency and temperature of extreme heat waves.

Are heat waves getting longer? ›

Global warming has driven a sixfold increase in the frequency of simultaneous heat waves over the last 40 years, according to a study she and Kornhuber co-authored, which was published in the Journal of the American Meteorological Society in June.

What are interesting facts about heat waves? ›

Heat waves kill more Americans than other natural disasters such as floods, lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes. Young children and adults over the age of 65 are most likely to experience heat exhaustion or other heat-related illness. In July 1995, Chicago, Illinois experienced a heat wave that caused over 700 deaths.

Why is it called heat waves? ›

The wavelength of infrared waves are sufficient to set atoms and molecules into vibrational motion. Hence whenever an object is encountered with infrared waves, produces heat due to the vibrations of atoms. This is the reason why infrared waves are called heat waves.

Why is heat wave a problem? ›

Heatwaves can burden health and emergency services and also increase strain on water, energy and transportation resulting in power shortages or even blackouts. Food and livelihood security may also be strained if people lose their crops or livestock due to extreme heat.

What year was the hottest in the last 100 years? ›

Over the last century, the average surface temperature of the Earth has increased by about 1.0o F. The eleven warmest years this century have all occurred since 1980, with 1995 the warmest on record.

Was 1976 the hottest summer on record? ›

In the CET record, it was the warmest summer in the series until being surpassed in the 21st century.
...
1976 British Isles heat wave.
Lyme Regis Beach, Dorset, August 1976
AreasBritish Isles
End date27 August 1976
Peak temp.35.9 °C (96.6 °F), recorded at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on 3 July 1976
1 more row

How long did 1976 heatwave last? ›

The subject of a nostalgic recent documentary on Channel 5, the heatwave of 1976 reached its peak between 23 June and 7 July, a 15-day period over the course of which at least somewhere in England recorded a temperature of more than 32.2C.

Was the hottest year in human society? ›

The year was 1988. Global temperatures were about 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.1 degrees Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial average. It was, at the time, the hottest 12-month period scientists had ever seen. None of us will ever experience a year that cool again.

What is the hottest decade? ›

The 2010s were by far the hottest decade on record. Every decade has averaged hotter than the prior one since the 1960s.

What stopped the Dust Bowl? ›

By 1934, an estimated 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land had been rendered useless for farming, while another 125 million acres—an area roughly three-quarters the size of Texas—was rapidly losing its topsoil. Regular rainfall returned to the region by the end of 1939, bringing the Dust Bowl years to a close.

How hot before a human dies? ›

Hot. 44 °C (111.2 °F) or more – Almost certainly death will occur; however, people have been known to survive up to 46.5 °C (115.7 °F). 43 °C (109.4 °F) – Normally death, or there may be serious brain damage, continuous convulsions, and shock.

How hot can a human get before dying? ›

In most cases, once a person's core temperature reaches 107.6 degrees, the heatstroke cannot be reversed and will be fatal. If the humidity is low, humans can endure even hotter temperatures. In a burning building or a deep mine, adults have survived 10 minutes at 300 degrees.

What temperature is too hot to be outside? ›

If the outside temperature is between 90 and 105 F, it can cause heat cramps. If between 105 and 130 F, heat exhaustion can occur. If above 130 F, it can cause heat stroke. When things reach this point, there can be loss of consciousness, skin can turn red, there can be nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and other symptoms.

What is the hottest thing to exist? ›

The dead star at the center of the Red Spider Nebula has a surface temperature of 250,000 degrees F, which is 25 times the temperature of the Sun's surface. This white dwarf may, indeed, be the hottest object in the universe.

What climate is healthiest for humans? ›

  • What climate is the healthiest?
  • Science proves 'sunny and +23°C' is perfect for our health.
  • It's easier to stay healthy, fit and happy in 'sunny and +23°C'
  • The healthiest climate makes the perfect setting for your retirement.
26 Oct 2022

Do people live in Death Valley? ›

Death Valley is no stranger to heat. Sitting 282 feet below sea level in the Mojave Desert in southeastern California near the Nevada border, it is the lowest, driest and hottest location in the United States. It is sparsely populated, with just 576 residents, according to the most recent census.

What will be the hottest day in 2022? ›

07/20/2022: The hottest day of the year.

What state has never hit 100 degrees? ›

Tuesday's Question: Only two states have never had a temperature over 100 degrees: Alaska and THIS state. What state? All the rest have hit at least 104.

What is the 2nd hottest country? ›

Burkina Faso, which borders Mali, is the second-hottest country on earth. With an average yearly temperature of 83.68°F (28.71°C), Burkina Faso gets a lot of heat! You'll find Burkina Faso in the western part of Africa, with the majority in the Sahel but a small part in the Sahara desert.

When did the heat wave start 2022? ›

August heatwave
Typeheatwave
AreasUnited Kingdom
Start date9 August 2022
End date15 August 2022
Peak temp.34.2 °C (93.6 °F), recorded at Wiggonholt, West Sussex on 11 August 2022

Why are we having a heatwave? ›

Why are we seeing these changes? Climate change is causing global temperatures to rise. Greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, released into Earth's atmosphere in large volumes are trapping the sun's heat, causing the planet to warm.

What was the hottest day in Kentucky? ›

According to Stacker, the all-time highest temperature in Kentucky was 114 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature was recorded in Greensburg on July 28, 1930. The coldest ever temperature in Kentucky was -37 degrees Fahrenheit. That temperature was recorded in Shelbyville on January 19, 1994.

How did the Chicago heat wave start? ›

What caused the Chicago heat wave? July 12-15, 1995, was dominated by an unseasonably hot and humid air mass that was slow to move out of the Midwest. An abnormal upper-level ridge and a dome of high pressure controlled the overall weather pattern that fateful week in July.

How hot will it be in 2030? ›

AUnderstanding Global Warming of 1.5°C*

warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

How hot will it be in 2050? ›

Highs could approach 40 degrees Celsius (around 104 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time – a prediction that prompted meteorologists there to issue a “red” heat warning for the first time ever. To be clear, this would be truly record-breaking heat.

Will 2022 will be the hottest year? ›

The global mean temperature in 2022 is currently estimated to be about 1.15 [1.02 to 1.28] °C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average. A rare triple-dip cooling La Niña means that 2022 is likely to “only” be fifth or sixth warmest.

Why is it getting hotter every year? ›

Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gas, which traps heat in Earth's atmosphere. Today, the planet is warming faster than ever. This is causing serious changes to our environment.

What temperature is too hot for humans? ›

People often point to a study published in 2010 that estimated that a wet-bulb temperature of 35 C – equal to 95 F at 100 percent humidity, or 115 F at 50 percent humidity – would be the upper limit of safety, beyond which the human body can no longer cool itself by evaporating sweat from the surface of the body to ...

Why is it so much hotter now? ›

The rate of global warming has rapidly increased in recent decades. Experts agree that climate change is exacerbating dangerously high temperatures across the world. Yearly global heat maps—published by NASA, the US space agency—can illustrate how much hotter the world is today than when you were born.

What is the hottest A state has ever been? ›

(Young Kwak / for The Washington Post / Getty Images)

The highest temperature ever recorded in the U.S. was 134 degrees in Death Valley, California, on July 10, 1913. That's also the hottest temperature ever recorded anywhere on Earth.

What's the hottest it's ever been anywhere? ›

Death Valley holds the record for the highest air temperature on the planet: On 10 July 1913, temperatures at the aptly named Furnace Creek area in the California desert reached a blistering 56.7°C (134.1°F).

What is the hottest city in Kentucky? ›

Kentucky
  • Hottest city: Glasgow.
  • Number of days per year w/ temperature above 90℉: 54.
  • Number of days per year w/ temperature above 100℉: 2.
  • Average summer maximum temperature: 89.6℉
  • Average summer minimum temperature: 65.3℉

What was the hottest day ever in Chicago? ›

Chicago's official all‑time high temperature of 105 (University of Chicago) was set July 24 1934. It was 109 at Midway on July 23, 1934, the highest temperature ever recorded at a Chicago location (but Midway was not the official observatory for Chicago in 1934).

How long did the 2003 heat wave last? ›

The severe heat wave began in Europe in June 2003 and continued through July until mid-August, raising summer temperatures 20 to 30% higher than the seasonal average in Celsius degrees over a large portion of the continent, extend- ing from northern Spain to the Czech Republic and from Germany to Italy (see map below).

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