Hot, hotter, hottest: 3 days in August 1918

WAY BACK WHEN

Back Story

August 11, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Sure, it's been hot this week, but not quite as hot as the three-day heat wave that saw temperatures in Baltimore soar to 105 degrees twice between Aug. 6 and Aug. 8, 1918.

Eighty-nine summers have passed, and the record still stands as the hottest three-day period in Baltimore.

However, what is interesting is how The Sun and The Evening Sun reported the weather crisis.

Wartime news from Europe and additions to the swiftly mounting count of the wounded and dead fighting with the American Expeditionary Forces, including many Baltimoreans and Marylanders, pushed the weather story off the front to inside pages.

The Sun's published weather forecast on Aug. 5, gave no hint of the blistering heat that was to come.

"The greatest heat wave of the season now prevails over the lower Missouri valley," observed the newspaper, while its weather prediction for Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia and North Carolina promised "fair and continued warm today and tomorrow."

"The day started out bright and early to be a sizzler. At 9 o'clock this morning, when most of the downtown district was buckling down to the work of the day, the temperature registered 90 degrees - an unusual performance for so early in the day," reported The Evening Sun in its editions of Aug. 6.

By 1:30 that afternoon, the mercury rose to 102 degrees in the Weather Bureau's "official tube" atop the Custom House, reported the newspaper, and combined with 58 percent humidity, was the principal "cause of wilted collars and wilted looks."

Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., the thermometer finally stopped climbing when it reached 105.5 degrees.

Baltimore was experiencing a veritable cool spell when compared with Washington, which reported a high of 106, and Cumberland, where temperatures soared to 107.

"Fair and continued warm," with no relief in sight, remained the Weather Bureau's forecast for the next few days.

"Not since July 3, 1898, has the thermometer locally gone above the century mark, and the most prolonged heat wave on record here is that extending from August 6 to 19, 1900, when the mercury hovered between 92 and 100 right along," reported the newspaper.

Two thousand workers building additions to what was then Camp Meade walked off the job, saying they "could no longer stand exposure to the burning sun," while hospital emergency rooms were jammed with victims suffering from heat prostration.

Many local factories, "especially those employing women and girls, will close down early, so that their employees may seek cooler places and thus conserve their strength," reported The Evening Sun.

Baltimore County farmers stopped work and stabled their draft animals; they hauled water after sunset in an effort to save their crops from ruin.

On the night of Aug. 6, city police estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 men, women and children slept in public parks "covering all the slopes with a close-packed mass of suffering humanity," the newspaper reported.

The temperature at night fell to 88, and the atmosphere was deathly still, with no trace of wind.

Baltimoreans had to endure another day of suffering when the thermometer hit 105 degrees at 5 p.m. on Aug. 7.

"Business was almost dead. In the offices downtown, employers and employees did what was absolutely necessary, and very little more," reported The Sun.

The newspaper reported that men rushed home to "clad themselves in pajamas" and sit "on darkened porches, if they were lucky enough to have them - leaving the porch frequently to get into tubs of cold water."

Country roads were jammed with autos carrying people who hoped to cool themselves off, while others hopped aboard streetcars hoping to catch a breeze as they rolled along their routes.

Finally, a heavy thunderstorm rolled over Baltimore on the evening of Aug. 8, bringing an end to the heat wave that had "worn those in good physical shape to a frazzle, and among the sick, the aged and the infants it was playing havoc," reported The Sun.

Eight people lost their lives during the heat wave.

Even while the heat was setting records, The Evening Sun reported that blankets and furs were selling "briskly" because "biting cold days are coming."

In The Sun's armed services edition, an editorial advised, "Whatever your tribulations, you still have something to be thankful for. This is no time for you to be homesick - wait at least until cooler weather."

For the record, the all-time hottest day in Baltimore occurred at 3 p.m. on July 10, 1934, when the mercury hit 107.4 degrees.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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