How the heat wave of 2012 stacks up to years past in Columbia

Thursday, July 5, 2012 | 7:58 p.m. CDT; updated 12:14 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 6, 2012

COLUMBIA — The record-breaking heat wave that hit Columbia this summer has been a struggle for many Columbians, and worsened the drought that has hindered farmers who raise livestock as well as residents who are struggling to care for their lawns and gardens.

Although the city is experiencing a nine-day streak of temperatures reaching 100 degrees and above, it appears that at least temporary relief is in sight. The National Weather Service forecast high temperatures in the mid-90s on Sunday and in the high 80s on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. There's even a chance for thunderstorms on Sunday and Monday.

“The front will disrupt the current system, resulting in the cooler temperatures,” said Butch Dye, a hydrometeorological technician at the National Weather Service office in St. Louis. After the scattered thunderstorms pass through, temperatures will return to hover around 90 degrees. That's about normal for this time of year, Dye said.

"It'll be a break from the heat," said Anthony Lupo, chair of the MU Department of Atmospheric Science. Beyond next week, though, it's unclear whether temperatures in excess of 100 degrees will return.

"If we don't get rain, we could get back to the heat," Lupo said.

The summer of 2012 has broken three daily records for high temperatures and tied some others. Still, it hasn't come close to some of the worst heat waves in the city's history, according to newspaper articles archived on microfilm at the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Summer of 1901

The summer of 1901 set numerous high-temperature records during an extreme and unprecedented drought. Eight of those records still stand today. It also marked the fifth longest streak of days — 13 — with temperatures 100 degrees or higher.

Like the current heat wave, the drought of 1901 caused many setbacks for farmers and other residents. The Columbia Daily Tribune, which was founded in September of 1901, reported on the lasting effects of the heat wave and drought in a September 19 article titled "DROUTH AFFECTS UNIVERSITY: Nevertheless the prospects are most flattering."

"The long drouth this summer which dried up the crops in Kansas and Missouri and made the life of the farmer anything but a bed of roses has exerted a direct influence on the university."

Because of the loss of revenue among agricultural areas in Missouri, many hopeful students were unable to attend the university and would have to "be kept at home to fight the wolf from the door."

The university president at the time, Richard Henry Jesse, for whom Jesse Hall was named, touched upon the issue during his address welcoming the incoming class:

"'At this time the country is also stricken, stricken as it never was before,' Jesse said.  'A drouth unprecedented in the history of Missouri has destroyed many crops. Not content with destroying the produce of the earth the drouth has played havoc with the cattlemen.'"

Summer of 1934

A third of a century later, the summer of 1934 blew 1901 out of the water with its record-breaking highs. It still holds 13 daily records in the summer months and boasts the second-longest streak — 15 days — of temperatures reaching 100 degrees or higher. The heat wave started with unseasonably high temperatures in the high 90s and reached 100 degrees at the beginning of June.

Residents were lulled into a false sense of security after the early suffering broke, but the furnace started blasting even more in the middle of July. The Tribune reported on July 20, in an article titled "Death Toll Gains; No Heat Relief," that the heat wave of 1934 was rivaling many 1901 records.

"Today is the tenth consecutive day that readings over 100 degrees have been reported. The record for consecutive above-100 days is 13 set in 1901, and the mark will be endangered unless unforeseen weather develops."

Yet another mini-heat wave offended Columbia in August, as reported in an Aug. 7, 1934, Tribune article titled "Heat Relief, Maybe Rain, by Tomorrow:"

"But chances for rain are just a chance and while cooler weather can be looked for it will by no means be chilly. As temperatures are running above the 100 degree mark daily, the cooler weather is expected to keep the mercury in the 90's for tomorrow."

Finally on Aug. 16, the drought was broken by a heavy downpour, and the heat wave was no more.

Summer of 1936

The summer of 1936 earned distinction as the grandaddy of all Columbia heat waves. The summer of 1936 still holds 15 record highs and two streaks tied for the longest number of days — 16 — reaching or surpassing 100 degrees. The summer pounded the city with four different heat waves, as reported by the Tribune on Aug. 17 in an article titled "THERMOMETERS KEEP CLIMBING:"

"Season records continued to fall by the wayside as the fourth heat wave of the summer entered its sixth day with a promise of above 100 degree temperatures for this afternoon and tomorrow."

The summer not only experienced record highs during the day, but at night as well. A Tribune article on August 22, "COLUMBIA HAS HOTTEST NIGHT," reported that Columbia broke the record for the "highest minimum temperature ever recorded in Columbia" at 85 degrees. In the history of the weather bureau at the time, only 18 nights had resulted in temperatures above 80 degrees, and 16 of them occurred in 1934 and 1936.

Summer of 1980

The summer of 1980 still holds seven record-breaking highs and the third longest streak — at 14 in a row — of temperatures reaching 100 degrees or higher. Unlike the previous record-breakers, the summer of 1980 brought another problem in addition to drought: electricity demand. Being the first modern heat wave to hit Columbia, 1980 was costly, as detailed in a July 9 Tribune article titled "Heat wave costly to Boone Electric":

"The 110-degree temperature reached July 1 pushed the demand on the Boone Electric Cooperative's generating capacity to a new record level that will cost the cooperative an additional $136,800. During the same searing heat wave, the City of Columbia's demand for electricity reached three record levels in eight days."

The then-director of the Water and Light Department Dick Malon, offered a bit of advice to help keep electric use down.

Malon said he didn't want to discourage anyone from trying to stay cool. "We definitely are not trying to hamper anybody's air conditioning," he said. "Go home and take a shower. Don't use the oven, the washer or the dryer. And don't decide to bake a cake. What we're asking is that you sit down with a cold beer in front of your air conditioner and relax.'"

While the community was facing modern problems, it also faced familiar problems such as caring for livestock during a severe drought. Ashland farmer Lonnie Sapp told the Columbia Missourian on July 31 that he was forced to sell his cattle because of a lack of quality pasture.

"'The first thing I want to do is pay off the bank,' he said. 'If I got some rain for the pasture, I might buy some of  'em (cattle) back.'"

Summer of 1988

The summer of 1988 brought the most recent record-breaking heat wave before this one; 1988 still holds six record highs. While not the most severe, it brought more attention than others from the community's newspapers.

The Missourian created a front-page feature called "Drought Watch" that ran almost daily and offered ways to "beat the heat." In a June 21 Missourian article, "Columbians show imagination scrambling to beat the heat," a former Florida resident illustrated just how hot it was.

"I never thought I'd say this," Sonja Geltner told the paper, "but I wish I was back in Miami where it's cool."

Missourian reporter Leah Beane contributed to this report.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Michael Williams July 6, 2012 | 8:36 a.m.

I criticize this newspaper quite a bit, but not in this instance.

This is an excellent job of reporting facts and history, returning a lot of perspective and reminding us that history did not start the day we were born.

This story is pure, unvarnished news.

I congratulate Holland and Leah; it must have taken quite a bit of time putting all that history together, including old headlines in local papers.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.