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The Heat Waves Of The 1930’s

May 10, 2014

By Paul Homewood



A Washington, D.C. heat wave cartoon from July 28, 1930. The heat wave is pictured trying to break a "sitting record," imitating the popular flagpole sitters of the day. The summer of 1930 set the record in Washington for number of days that temperatures reached or exceeded 100°F, at 11 days. The hottest temperature of 106°F occurred on July 20. Pulitzer Prize winner Clifford Berryman drew the cartoon. Source: The book "Washington Weather."


The heat waves of 1934 and 1936 in Mid West and Great Plains are well known. But, perhaps, what is less well appreciated is that record breaking heat waves were both more extensive geographically and were not just confined to these two years.

The Capital Weather Gang, who write for the Washington Post, wrote this article back in 2010, showing how the heat waves affected Washington DC.


Before there was global warming, there were the dust bowl years of the 1930s, also known as "The Dirty Thirties." The record-setting heat waves and drought of the 1930s occurred during the middle of the Great Depression and contributed to the economic hardship felt throughout the nation. They also occurred when most people did not have the comfort of air conditioning and many heat-related deaths were reported. Two years during that decade were particularly hot for our region, 1930 and 1936. Those two years set heat records in Washington which still stand today.

Keep reading to learn more about the heat waves of 1930 and 1936.

The summer of 1930 made headlines due to unprecedented heat and drought that caused disastrous crop failures throughout the United States. The summer of 1930 ushered in the "Dust Bowl" era of unusually hot, dry summers that plagued the U.S. during much of the 1930s.

Washington area farmers were certainly not spared in 1930, as intense, prolonged hot spells gripped the region during late July and early August. The official temperature recorded on July 20 was 106°F, which holds the record as the highest temperature ever recorded in Washington. Unofficially, 110°F was recorded that same day on Pennsylvania Avenue and 108°F at the National Cathedral. The summer of 1930 also set the record for number of days where temperatures reached or exceeded 100°F at 11 days.

High temperatures of over 100°F were recorded during two heat waves that occurred in late July and early August of 1930. The July heat wave high temperatures are as follows:

July 19 – 102°F
July 20 – 106°F
July 21 – 103°F
July 22 – 100°F
July 23 – 94°F
July 24 – 93°F
July 25 – 100°F
July 26 – 100°F

The August heat wave high temperatures are as follows:

August 2 – 94°F
August 3 – 100°F
August 4 – 102°F
August 5 – 102°F
August 6 – 88°F
August 7 – 97°F
August 8 – 104°F
August 9 – 102°F

By the end of the summer of 1930, approximately 30 deaths in Washington were blamed on the heat and thousands more had died nationwide. In Washington, there has never been another summer with a heat wave that has equalled the summer of 1930.

The Heat Chaser hostess gives a Washington policeman a cold drink, August 4, 1936. Temperatures reached 95°F that day. The hottest day of that summer was July 10 when the temperature reached 105°F.Source: The book "Washington Weather."

The summer of 1936 stands out as one of the hottest summers felt across the entire United States. The heat wave began in early summer, with the Midwest experiencing June temperatures exceeding 100°F in some locations. The heat peaked in July, with all-time records set in many cities. Steele, North Dakota recorded a high temperature of 121°F and portions of Canada saw high temperatures exceed 110°F. In Washington, the temperature reached 104°F on July 9 and 105°F on July 10. More than 5,000 heat-related deaths were reported across the United States. The heat wave and drought of 1936 finally eased in September.

For you snow-lovers, how do you think the winters that followed the heat waves of 1930 and 1936 fared for Washingtonians? I can sum it up in one word, depressing. Of course, if you like tennis weather or afternoon strolls without an overcoat, the winters of 1930/31 and 1936/37 were awesome.

During the winter that followed the 1930 heat wave, there were only 3 days which had temperatures below freezing all day and only 2.5" of snow fell during the entire winter season. Temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s were common during the winter months, with 67°F recorded on January 27.

The winter that followed the heat wave of 1936 was even milder than 1930 for Washington. During that winter, there was only 1 day which had temperatures below freezing all day and temperatures in the 60’s were common throughout the winter months. An amazing high temperature of 76°F was recorded on January 9. A few late season wet snowstorms salvaged the winter for snow in Washington, with a little over 15" reported for the season.



As I mentioned, the article was written in 2010, so how does the summer of 1930 compare with 2012?


The monthly meteorological observations at Laurel MD, the nearest USHCN station to Washington, 50km away suggest that 2012 does not even come close. The monthly reports for July/August are copied below, but can be summarised. (The quality of the 1930 sheets is a bit rough, but the numbers are also confirmed via the Maryland State Climatological Reports).


  1930 2012
No of Days >= 100F 12 2
No of Days >= 95F 21 10
Top Temperature 106F 102F



It is also worth noting that the all-time maximum temperature record for Maryland is 109F, originally set in 1898 and subsequently tied in 1918 and 1936.




 That Speech



We all no doubt remember Obama’s famous “It’s hot today, it must be global warming” speech, delivered last year in Washington. On that day, 25th June, the temperature reached 82F, down the road at Laurel.




It will probably come as no great surprise to learn that the average maximum temperature in June there is 83.8F. Or that the record temperature for June is 101F, set as long ago as 1899.

Or that a temperature of 82F has been exceeded or tied in June on no less than 1992 occasions out a total 3204 days at Laurel.

Just as well you brought that handkerchief, Mr Obama!








  1. Andy DC permalink
    May 10, 2014 4:58 pm

    I co-authored Washington Weather and that writing is mine!

  2. November 1, 2015 3:38 am

    Why did you mention the winter after the 1936 heat wave, but fail to mention the winter before?

    • November 1, 2015 10:57 am


      • Mei Yifu permalink
        July 2, 2016 11:19 pm

        You seriously don’t understand that? Try looking at the US temperature record for Dec-Feb 1935-36. Bitterly cold – second coldest on record.

      • July 3, 2016 10:11 am

        Yes, 1935/6 was 2nd coldest. Also 1933/34 was the warmest on record at the time.

        Nowadays they’d blame such extreme weather on global warming!

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