Just as the Mississippi River is beginning to recede and festivals appear on our riverfront, we suddenly have a new weather focus – summer temperatures. The warmth of July is suddenly here and July warmth will soon melt into the heat of August. As we teeter on the edge of our first 90 degree day*, air conditioners are once again running at full force to keep us cool. Imagine for a moment a heat wave with no, or very little, air conditioning. No home air conditioning to help you sleep, no frozen food section to meander through. Sound uncomfortable? Those were the conditions faced by a large portion of the United States in 1936.
1936 was a year of extremes not only socially and politically, but for weather as well. As the U. S. continued to struggle through the Great Depression, the winter of 1935 – 1936 brought record-breaking bone chilling cold while the summer saw record-breaking heat strike most of the country. Davenport was no exception. Many of the high temperature records set that summer still stand. Drought, grasshoppers, floods (in specific areas), and tornados also added to the natural disasters of the year.
Drought was beginning to plague this region as temperatures began to rise in late June 1936. Cooler weather returned briefly until July5 when the temperature reached 105 degrees**. On July 6 it was 105 degrees again and The Davenport Democrat and Leader evening addition reported the first local heat related death, Mr. Leo Brandmeyer age 32 of Rock Island. The overnight temperature dropped to only 81 degrees before soaring again to 105 degrees on July 7. The Davenport Democrat and Leader reported that day the difference in temperature between January 1936 (low temperature of 22 degrees below zero) and July 7, 1936 (105 degrees) was 127 degrees, a new record temperature swing for one year. That record would be surpassed in only days.
Between July 5 and July 15 the temperature remained above 102 degrees during the day with temperatures only dipping into the 80s at night. The highest temperature came on July 14 when the thermometer hit 111 degrees. With no rain in sight newspapers began to report on crops dying. Adding to the agricultural distress were grasshoppers eating what crops were not withering away in the sun. Only a few hotels and movie theaters had air conditioning. Home cooling systems were still very rare. Families began to live in their basements during the day to keep cool. At night people slept in parks or on lawns trying to find what little comfort there was in the outdoors. The local papers continued to list those who had either died or collapsed from the heat.
In the midst of the heat wave, life went on. 1936 was the year of Davenport’s Centennial. In the midst of the heat wave a huge centennial celebration took place including a Centennial parade which drew an estimated 10,000 people on July 14. The Daily Times printed a 144 page special edition on July 11 to celebrate the Centennial. One person featured was Henry P. Brown a Civil War veteran and G.A.R. member who had been appointed in April 1936 as aide-de-camp for the National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. Mr. Brown would become a victim of the heat on July 15. On July16 the temperature finally fell under 100 degrees during the day for the first time in fourteen days with an evening temperature in the 70s. July 17 saw another record breaking day, but by July 20 the heat wave had broken and rain began to cool the area. The evening temperature even reached 67 degrees, the coolest temperature since July 3.
An estimated 89 people died locally during the 1936 heat wave. Nationwide the estimate stands at 5,000 dead. Interestingly, the excessive heat was not located in the southern U. S., but in the northern and Midwestern regions. Warmer weather did return, but in spurts intermixed with cooler temperatures as well. The long continuous heat did not come back. A large percentage of crops were lost that year which added to the misery of the depression. Even the Mississippi River was hit hard as it dropped to 1.0 foot below normal on August 15, 1936, its lowest recorded level in the Quad City region. This surely was a summer to forget, and most definitely not one to repeat.
Highs temperatures still on record from 1936: June 29 – 104° F, July 5 – 105°F, July 6° – 105°F, July 7 – 105°F, July 8 – 104°F, July 9 – 102°F, July 10 – 105°F, July 11 – 107°F, July 12 – 108°F, July 13 – 107°F, July 14 – 111°F, July 15 – 106°F, July 17 – 103°F, July 26 – 106°F, August 12 – 100°F, August 14 – 105°F, August 15 – 101°F, August 18 – 106°F, August 21 – 99°F, August 22 – 101°F, August 24 – 100°F.
*All temperatures are in Fahrenheit.
**Temperature records are based from Moline, Illinois as Davenport did not keep official records until the 1980s. Both are part of the Quad-City region.
(posted by Amy D.)