Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Ever wonder why people of the "Greatest Generation" generally were and are still pretty tough? Not only was there a Depression in the 1930's but people in this area had another reason to be tough: the weather extremes. I don't need to mention the Dust Bowl to residents of the Plains but what might be less common knowledge is how extreme the weather was in 1936.

Winter of 1936:
From January 21 to February 20, a stretch of bitter and unmatched cold engulfed the north central U.S. In Lincoln, the average temperature during that period was -1.7F and of the 31 days in that period, six had a high temperature below 0. Throughout most of this period, over a foot of snow was on the ground (reaching a maximum depth of 16 inches) and the warmest minimum temperature was 2 above zero. The low fell to 20 below or colder four times and to 10 below or colder 24 times. I don't have wind speed data for this period but given that the Winter of 1936 is known as the "Telephone Wire Winter" in Iowa, we can assume it was windy with whiteout conditions occurring on a regular basis. Of course, if you think it was bad in Lincoln, the winter of 1936 in Grand Forks, ND was close to Siberia standards. In that same 31 day period, the warmest temperature in Grand Forks was 1. Yes, 1. The high in Grand Forks on January 22, 1936 was 30 below zero and minimum temperatures of 40 below or colder were not uncommon.

The bitter cold snap ended in late February and a mild, relatively dry Spring prevailed. There were some decent rains in Lincoln in late April and the first part of May, so farmers probably were optimistic that 1936 would be a good growing season.

Summer of 1936:
Through the middle of June, their hopes were not entirely dashed. Rainfall in the previous month had been sparse, but there hadn't been much heat, so timely rains for the rest of the season could have meant success. Unfortunately, the 0.55 that fell on June 16 would be the last rainfall over 0.50 in Lincoln until August 27. With the drought and what must have been the mother of all death ridges, Lincoln and almost every place in the north central United States had a summer for the record books. The temperature reached the century mark in Lincoln on 11 consecutive days in July 1936 but hopefully nothing will ever top the fateful day of July 25, 1936. On what has to be one of the hottest days ever recorded outside a true desert, a nighttime minimum temperature of 91 was followed by a scorching high of 115. The height of the 1936 heat wave for the north central states occurred on July 13 and here are high temperatures for selected Midwestern cities:

Cedar Rapids, IA: 108
Springfield, IL: 108
Davenport, IA: 107 (it was 111 the following day)
Des Moines, IA: 107 (it would reach 110 later in the month)
Grand Forks, ND: 106
Duluth, MN: 106
Madison, WI: 106
Green Bay, WI: 104
Lincoln, NE: 104
Fort Wayne, IN: 104
Sioux Falls, SD: 103
Indianapolis, IN: 103
Chicago, IL: 102
Detroit, MI: 102
Columbus, OH: 101

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