Column: Remembering an extremely hot and cold time back in 1936

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 9, 2002

Not long ago one of our Tribune readers brought in a copy of an article from the Lake Mills Graphic regarding really hot weather. Regretfully, I didn’t get the man’s name so I can thank him in print for providing the topic for another timely column.

This particular article was published in 1986 and had as its theme the summer weather conditions five decades earlier. And the reference to 1936 reminded me of an article and a column I did in the past based on the extreme weather conditions from hot to cold for that specific year.

The Lake Mills Graphic article was actually based on information from a 1936 issue of the Emmons Leader newspaper. The most interesting part was the following:

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&uot;This is how it was in Freeborn County (on) July 16, 1936.

&uot;Blistering heat wave still unbroken on the 14th consecutive day.

&uot;Thirteen consecutive days of death dealing heat and crop destroying drought were written in the record this morning. The opening of the 14th day with no relief in sight. The nation’s death toll is placed at 3,400; in Minnesota 707; in Minneapolis, 310; and in St. Paul, 239.

&uot;Recordings in Emmons for the week ending July 16 were: Friday, 109; Saturday, 112; Sunday, 110; Monday, 108; Tuesday, 112; Wednesday, 110, and by 10 a.m. Thursday the temperature had hit 96. Three cases of heat prostration have been reported in Emmons during the week.&uot;

My prior article said 1936 was one of the worst in the nation’s history for miserable weather. There was flooding on both the Ohio and lower Mississippi Rivers which involved 20 major cities and took 138 lives. There was also drought, forest fires, tornadoes, the infamous dust storms in the Midwest, and a prolonged heat wave that caused the death of about 4,000 Americans.

The extreme heat in 1936 caused people in the cities to abandon their homes and apartments to sleep in the parks or backyards or anywhere else where it was a few degrees cooler.

Albert Lea’s high point of this heat wave came on July 14, 1936. The official temperature reached 106 degrees at 3 p.m. Another local weather watcher recorded 110 degrees in the shade. Bemidji had 107 degrees; Red Wing, 112 degrees; Duluth, 106 degrees; and Wishek, N.D. had a high of 120 degrees that same day. Minneapolis had 67 deaths that day, mostly caused by the heat.

One of the local fruit growers, Henry P. Hanson, was the person who reported the 110 degree temperature at his home on South Madison Avenue. He and other area orchard owners reported their apples were actually cooking on the trees. Now that’s hot!

Yet, the weird weather of 1936 actually started on Jan. 18 when the temperature dropped to minus eight. Then for the next 36 days the temperature never went above zero. On Jan. 21 the temperature was 31 degrees below zero, which became the local record low for that winter. This long freeze didn’t end until Feb. 23, 1936.

One of the weather myths says that frigid temperature has to moderate before it can snow. This certainly didn’t happen during those 36 days. In fact, several brutal blizzards created snowdrifts which completely isolated area communities for several days duration. The storms disrupted all railroad and roadway traffic and closed most rural schools for various periods of time.

The Tribune’s Feb. 10, 1936, issue reported, &uot;Not in modern times has Albert Lea been so completely isolated from the outside world. The sleighs and (horse) teams have taken the places of the automobiles and trucks.&uot;

Albert Lea Tommy (the Tribune’s editor Burt May) commented about 1936 with, &uot;Never in my time has there been such a year of extreme cold and extreme heat …&uot;

Let’s all hope this part of the &uot;good old days&uot; is never revived.

Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.