July 1936 | Omaha melt month
Perhaps no other decade entered the cultural zeitgeist of Nebraska history in terms of weather more than the 1930s. Known as the Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties, residents of Nebraska and Iowa dealt with the economic effects of the Great Depression that coincided with widespread drought. Dust storms became a fact of life throughout the Plains during the 1930s.
In terms of weather, perhaps no other year had such extreme range for Nebraska or Iowa then 1936. From record cold in the winter to record heat in the summer, 1936 had it all. Those who froze in February 1936 were hoping for a warm summer, and they got much more than they bargained for. in this installment of This week in the history of the weatherLet’s go back to 1936 to look at the month that Nebraska and Iowa melted.
If you’re looking for context, check out this article explaining the background on 1930s Nebraska and Iowa. February 1936 was also the coldest month in the region’s history, and you can read all about it here.
After February 1936
After the coldest February on record in Nebraska, temperatures are returning to more normal weather as winter transitions into spring. In March, temperatures were close to average for the month, although dry. April was also pretty great, but nothing record-breaking. By May, the temperature slowly began to rise, but again it was not a record high. By the end of May, temperatures were about 5 degrees higher than average May temperatures. May was also fairly wet, with May 17 seeing over 2.5 inches of rain.
In terms of severe weather, the 1936 season in Nebraska and Iowa was relatively quiet due to a dry spring. No tornadoes were reported in eastern Nebraska or western Iowa during the spring of 1936.
Just because it was quiet in our area doesn’t mean it was quiet elsewhere. On the evening of April 5, an F-5 tornado tore through the northern parts of Tupelo, MS. This tornado killed at least 216 people and completely destroyed parts of the city. The Tupelo Hurricane is the fourth deadliest hurricane in US history. Just 12 hours later on the morning of the sixth day, an F-4 tornado struck Gainesville, Georgia. The Gainesville tornado killed at least 203 people, making it the fifth deadliest tornado in US history. When combined, this tornado outbreak is the second deadliest tornado after the Tri-State tornado outbreak in 1925.
June 1936: The beginning of the heat
By June 1936, areas outside Nebraska and Iowa were beginning to heat up. In the West, temperatures in cities like Salt Lake City reached 100 degrees on a few occasions. Records fell from Arizona to Idaho, and from California to Colorado. By mid-June, heat began to rise over the Southeast, with temperatures in many cities across Mississippi and Alabama reaching 100 degrees or more for days on end.
By late June, the heat had spread to the Midwest. Record high temperatures for June were broken across much of the central United States, with Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri setting all-time record highs in June. The hottest day in Nebraska was June 26, when Franklin’s monthly high temperature of 114 degrees was broken. The temperature in Omaha reached 105 degrees that day, making it one of the hottest June days on record for the city. By the end of the month, Kentucky and Tennessee had also surpassed their June high temperatures.
July 1936: Relentless heat
The heat in Nebraska and Iowa started early in July with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees just in time for the 4th of July. Omaha saw the fourth warmest spot with a high of 110 degrees. Des Moines’ temperature reached 109 degrees, one degree shy of the record.
After a break from the sweltering heat, he was still standing well into the 90s. Then there was a long period of triple-digit temperatures. From July 9 to 19, the temperature in Omaha reached 100 degrees or higher all but one day, the second-longest streak of triple-digit heat in Omaha’s history, the longest streak occurring in 1934.
Elsewhere, temperatures persisted in much of the eastern U.S. state of North Dakota, breaking an all-time record high of 121 degrees, just months after breaking an all-time record low of -60 degrees in February. Other states, such as Missouri, broke all-time highs of 115 degrees, but were crushed a year later.
By far the hottest day in Nebraska and Iowa history came on July 25, 1936. It began that morning when low temperatures barely dipped below 90 degrees. In fact, Lincoln’s temperature reached 91 degrees Celsius. Outside of the U.S. Southwest, this is one of the warmest overnight low temperatures in the country. It was so warm that people were sleeping on the floor of the Capitol because the house was so hot.
By the afternoon, temperatures had risen to 114 degrees in Omaha and 115 degrees in Lincoln, both setting the highest temperature on record. A day earlier, the temperature in Minden, NE, reached 118 degrees, a state record for hottest temperature. On July 25, the temperature in Iowa’s Atlantic Ocean reached 117 degrees, the highest temperature in Iowa history.
Fortunately, July 25 was the last bout of extreme heat, with temperatures gradually dropping by the end of the month.
August 1936 was still hot. This will be the fourth hottest August on record in Nebraska and the hottest on record in Missouri. After August, temperatures returned to normal by autumn.
While it is difficult to estimate the death toll in Nebraska and Iowa due to the heat, it is likely that several hundred people died. Nationally, it is estimated that the number of people who have died from heat illness is about 5,000. If this number is accurate, it is one of the deadliest natural disasters in US history.
At a time when air conditioning was too expensive for the average person, not to mention dangerous too, homes became like ovens as the warm overnight drop in temperatures failed to cool the homes. Movie theaters were one of the only buildings to have air conditioning in the 1930s, as theaters saw increased attendance just to beat the heat.
By 1947, a new innovation made air conditioning units cheaper, allowing homes to install them. Nowadays, with the prevalence of air conditioning, we are unlikely to see such a rise in death tolls. The heatwave to rival that of 1936 was the heatwave of 2012, in which 86 people died.
(tags for translation)1936 heat wave