Baltimore baked in record heat


Hot! Hot!! Hot!!!: Nationwide heat wave of 1936 saw the thermometer hit 107 degrees here.

July 10, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

1936 was a record year nationwide for weather extremes, and Maryland was no exception.

Great floods had roared through the state that spring, and in early July, temperatures were soaring well over the century mark.

On July 11, 1936, the mercury hit 107.4 degrees in Baltimore, breaking the previous high mark of 105.4 (in 1918) and setting a record that has stood for the intervening 63 summers.

Earlier that week, 11 Midwestern and Western states were in the grip of a heat wave that produced readings of 100 degrees in Duluth, Minn., traditionally one of the coolest spots in the nation during the summer months.

President Roosevelt's attention turned to the Dust Bowl, which he planned to visit in August to see first-hand the effects of the protracted drought on the region. The "distress in the western drought area [reached] such desperate proportions that 204,000 farm families are in need of immediate cash relief," reported The Sun.

By July 9, the heat wave had crept eastward over the Allegheny Mountains and settled into Central Maryland.

"Three were prostrated in the city yesterday as temperatures rose to 94 degrees in the summer's first heat wave. Temperatures will go to 95 and possibly higher during the next three days, the Weather Bureau predicted, with no rain in sight except possible thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon," said The Sun.

People were overcome while walking on city streets. A horse that collapsed at Light and East Conway streets had to be helped to its feet by his owner and dock hands from a nearby steamship wharf.

The highest temperature reading that day, though, was not in Baltimore but in Cumberland, which experienced readings of 102.5 degrees.

The next day, the mercury soared to 103 degrees in Baltimore while setting an all-time high record of 102.3 in New York City. Heat-related deaths totaled 245 across the nation.

While headlines warned, "103 Recorded, No Relief Seen For Baltimore," residents of Hagerstown baked under readings of 98 and Annapolitans were finding ways to keep cool in the 102-degree heat.

However, Salisbury and environs enjoyed temperatures of 61 degrees, attributed to "a cool breeze."

Gov. Harry W. Nice authorized state department heads to dismiss employees early because of the heat. While thousands sought to keep cool at beaches and city pools, others cooled off in the harbor. Excursion steamship lines reported larger crowds than usual while other Baltimoreans attempted to keep cool with the aid of upturned garden hoses.

Department stores such as the Hub at Baltimore and Charles streets attempted to entice shoppers downtown with newspaper ads that read: "Cool. Cool. Cool." Tuerkes leather goods advertised its "Air-Cooled" comfort, while the Hotel Stafford in Mount Vernon Place offered "Neither heat nor humidity in our delightful air condition cocktail lounge. Drop in and refresh yourself!"

For a $3 round-trip excursion ticket, Baltimoreans hoping for cooler temperatures and ocean surf could hop a Pennsylvania Railroad train for Atlantic City, while others headed for the city's air-conditioned movie theaters.

At the New Theater, overheated Baltimoreans cooled off watching Shirley Temple in "The Poor Little Rich Girl." In the cool auditorium of the Hippodrome, they could see "The Bride Walks Out" starring Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Young, Helen Broderick and Ned Sparks. At Keiths, W. C. Fields had audiences roaring in "Poppy," while Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy entertained crowds at the Loews Century in "San Francisco."

At night, many abandoned overheated rowhouses and took refuge in city parks carrying hampers of food and other provisions.

Concrete roads buckled throughout the state while the "skyscrapers of downtown Baltimore appeared wrapped in a thick, gray veil," said The Sun.

"They parked their machines around the lakes at Montebello, Clifton and Patterson parks, spread bed clothing on the grass and some even brought along cribs for the babies," observed the newspaper.

As the nation entered the eighth day of the monumental heat wave on July 11, Baltimore thermometers shattered records and made local weather history when they soared to 107.4 at 3 p.m. Cumberland and Frederick, however, were even hotter, setting the record for being the hottest cities ever in the state at 109 degrees.

At 7: 40 p.m. that evening, a thunderstorm with 38 mph winds rolled into Baltimore and brought blessed relief. Temperatures plummeted 12 degrees between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Trees were uprooted in the northern section of the city, bringing motor and streetcar traffic to a halt along York Road, while Frances Dressel of 3205 Hamilton Ave. reported that a lightning bolt accompanied by a "loud crash" passed through her house while she stood in the doorway.

Still it was not until July 15 that the heat wave began showing signs of real abatement, with temperatures in the mid-90s promised for the next day.

"Masses of cool air from a Canadian high-pressure area checked the stifling heat in the Great Lakes section tonight and lent its tempering effects as far east as New York," reported The Sun.

The death toll nationwide from the heat wave reached 3,800.

Pub Date: 7/10/99

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