The heat wave of 1901 was one of the most intense, prolonged and widespread summer events on record in the central and eastern U.S. Over 9500 heat-related deaths were attributed to the 1901 heat wave. The core of the heat was centered just to our southwest in portions of Iowa, Nebraska and Missouri (Image 1 above). The heat wave was a product of a serious drought that gripped the same areas during July 1901 (Image 2). The event even made the paper across the Atlantic Ocean. The intense heat made one surge into Upper Michigan at mid-month.
â??Marquette had better take down her shingle as the Queen summer resort of the north,â?? said the U.S Weather Bureau observer. He made the remark after a sweltering high of 108 degrees on July 15, 1901. The all-time hottest temperature on record came at the peak of a three-day heat wave that affected the entire region.
â??Copperdomâ?? first felt the excessive heat on July 13 when the temperature in Houghton popped above 90 degrees. The next day it had already reached 95 at 11:00 a.m. and by 2:00 the official thermometer read 103 degrees. Residents then suffered with no let-up the rest of the day as the â??sun beat down relentlessly on those who passed in the streets.â?? The usual lake breeze was lackingâ??there was little if any breeze at all.
No casualties were reported due to the torrid temperatures, though a horse â??dropped dead at Hancockâ?? in the morning. The next day was a different story. Andrew Swenson, chef of the Douglass House in Houghton, fell ill at noon. A physician was called, â??but medical skill was of no avail.â?? The 38-year-old was pronounced dead later that afternoon. Several others succumbed to the heat, including a waitress at the same restaurant, a couple of â??coal heaversâ?? and an elderly Calumet man whose poor condition the next day engendered â??fears for his recovery.â??
Despite the heat, work went on as usual that day. Even at area foundries and smelters, men continued their labors over molten copper and iron with few delays. The workers did take more frequent breaks Barrels of ice water were brought into them and they drank the water â??in large quantities.â??
In Marquette, work was partially suspended at the Powder Mill and at a veneer factory, but otherwise the daily routine continued. In fact, few people realized that it was the hottest day ever, because there was at least a â??slight prevailing breeze.â?? Many residents in town boarded the open-air street cars in an attempt to catch a stronger wind. Business was brisk to Presque Isle well into the evening as it stayed â??uncomfortably warm for some time after the supper hour.â??
New fashion ground was broken during this turn-of-the-century hot spell. Prior to 1901, â??men felt it was their manly duties to swelter in scorching weather for dignityâ??s sake.â?? They would keep their coats on no matter how hot it got. During this heat wave, men in Marquette were â??emboldened to cast their coats aside.â?? They walked the streets and did their business in shirtsleeves, hiding their suspenders or casting them aside completely, using a belt to hold up their pants. Some of the more daring males even donned the more â??feminineâ?? garment called the â??shirt waist.â?? Local historians say this hot weather garment was likely a loose-fitting cotton shirt sans the usual starched collar and cuffs.
Even areas horses blazed a new fashion trail in July 1901. Houghton horses were seen wearing straw hats, part of the latest fad from the big cities to the south. The stylish hat was specially tooled for the equine population. There were slits on each side for the ears, and the hat came to a peak. Just like its counterpart for humans, the straw hat came with a colored band and was â??altogetherâ?|not unbecoming.â??
The record blast of heat came to a merciful end just after midmonth. July 1901 ended in Marquette only a modest 3 degrees above average, indicating a more normal U.P. summer weather pattern the majority of the month.
Our current, modest heat wave will continue for a couple of more days. This one is a product of a strong upper-level ridge that has formed over the Lower Great Lakes (Image 3). The ridge has reached its peak intensity and will begin to break down mid-week as the main band of westerlies in Canada sink southward. The pattern will likely flip by the end of the week and the weekend which will mean a significant surge of much cooler air (Image 4).