Monday, May 27, 2024

What was the worst heat wave in St. Louis?

July in St. Louis can be a little uncomfortable. It has been worse than it was before.

July in St. Louis can be a little uncomfortable. Although we’re strong, we can’t stand in front of flaming barbecue pits on July 4 and grill pork steaks outside when it’s 101 degrees outside. But even we know our limits. We reached them in an unreal summer, when the Earth seemed to have shifted its orbit just a few light-minutes closer towards the sun.

This was the summer 1936, when St. Louis experienced an uninterrupted 37-day stretch at 100 degrees or more. It had been an amazing year, but it was not the worst. Many people were still unemployed after the Great Depression. Missouri farmers were eating topsoil in a drought that was straight from the Bible. You could take the edge off in an environment without air-conditioning by taking a cold shower or swimming in a pool. Then you could go back to your normal life and enjoy a delicious pork steak on a barbecue.

The wealthy boarded air-conditioned trains to travel to Michigan’s lakes or Colorado’s mountains for chateaux. Everyone else improvised. “Hundreds of motorists have tried to escape the heat for the past few nights by driving to the country and parking at relatively cool valleys.”

St. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported. It said that a favorite section was in the vicinity the Municipal Airport. Some clever so-andsos created a crude DIY system of air-conditioning inside a vehicle by placing a bucket of dry Ice on the floor. Apartment dwellers who didn’t have cars made their balconies into sleeping areas. Hamilton Avenue tenants were overheated and tried their balconies out Friday night. When they couldn’t sleep they tried out their voices. The experiment was made more successful when heat-sufferers joined the fray, and it ended up being a community sing.

They were still hot but their whistles were still wet: The water commissioner had earlier reported that St. Louis had almost broken its 1930 record of 193,000,000 gallons of water consumed in 24 hours. Water could prove to be just as dangerous as heat. Swimming enthusiasts underestimated the speed at which exhaustion can set in. The GlobeDemocrat highlighted this by listing heatstroke deaths and drowning deaths. Water was the only thing that could end the misery, and it did. Roscoe Nunn (head of the St. Louis Weather Bureau and one of the most quoted public figures in town that summer) finally announced that rainstorms would provide “considerable relief.”

He was correct: It rained nearly continuously through September and the average temperatures were well below the normal, much to the delight of all in the town.

Hot in Herre

Other historical heat waves in St. Louis


The St. The July 25, 2005, article by the Louis Star-Times. At the end of the summer, 420 people died from heat-related causes.


Although it wasn’t the longest heat wave in St. Louis, it did produce the hottest day ever recorded: July 14, 117° East St. Louis.


Heat waves in a post-A/C world aren’t nearly so deadly. In July 1980, air conditioning was only available in the City Hospital’s emergency room and ICU. Dr. Richard Hudgens sent a letter to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, pointing out that conditions were the same as during the 1954 heat wave. The city installed an emergency cooling system in July 1980.

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