Scorching heat, borne off the bone-dry Plains, poured over Upper Michigan just after the Independence Day weekend in 1936. The temperature soared to 98 in Ironwood on the 7th and moderated slightly under the influence of a fresh breeze the next day. The heat wave gradually reached a crescendo over the next several days; it reached 103 degrees on the 12th and an all-time record of 104 the next day.
The stifling heat was blamed for 13 deaths on the Gogebic Range. Most victims were elderly and died of heat stroke. Gust Lindquist, 83 years old and a pioneer of the Norrie location near Ironwood, lost his wife on July 12 due to complications brought on by the hot weather. The following day, Lindquist himself succumbed to heat stroke. When admitted to the hospital his body temperature topped out at 108 degrees. The hardy pioneer pulled through; the next day his condition improved. At the same time, cooler air began filtering into the region.
While Escanaba wilted under 104-degree heat on July 8, the lightkeeper in that town â??enjoyed the fresh breezes from the lakeâ?? that â??made living comfortableâ?? at his shoreline location. The next day the temperature uptown soared to 102 at 10 a.m., while at the same time at the lighthouse, the mercury leveled off at a more comfortable 88 degrees.
Escanaba endured the searing heat with most of its natural ice supply lost. On July 7, fire leveled the Swanson Ice House, melting the precious contents of the building in a matter of two hours.
It got so hot a thermometer broke in Menominee. Actually, the thermometer was overexposed. City employees at the water works placed a thermometer directly in the sun; minutes later, the temperature rose to 120 degrees and broke the glass containing the mercury. Menominee reached 99 degrees in the shade on July 7 and 102 on the 8th.
Record breaking heat was experienced in the â??Queen Cityâ?? by the lake. Marquette reached 103 degrees on July 7, and 101 on both the 8th and 9th. It was the first time since 1901 that the weather bureau recorded three days in a month with a temperature above 100 degrees, and the first time ever this milestone was reached over consecutive days. Even out on the areaâ??s â??largest natural air conditionerâ?? there was no escape from the hot air mass. Sailors on an ore carrier 10 miles offshore on Lake Superior said the temperature there climbed over 100 degrees.
The climax of this historic heat wave came on July 13. Just like Ironwood, Marquette suffered with a 104 degree high accompanied by excessive humidity. The temperature stayed above 100 for nearly four hours late that afternoon and early evening. In Munising, the thermometer peaked above 100 degrees from noon to 7pm. In Republic, it topped out at a sizzling 107.
Records for extreme heat were set in 16 states from the Plains to the East Coast during the second week of July 1936; this after many spots set or approached records for duration of cold the winter before. Mio, in northeast Lower Michigan, set the all-time state high temperature record of 112 degrees during the heat wave. In North Dakota, the temperature in one town rose to 120 degrees; this Death Valley-like temperature has never been equaled since. Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma also reached the 120-degree mark; the only instances in recorded history of 120 degrees or more outside the Desert Southwest. The Heat Wave of July 1936 still stands as the most intense in United States history.
Note how most record highs over the U.S. since solid record keeping began (in the late 19th century) occurred during the 30s with the absolute spike in 1936 (Image above). There was another moderate spike around 1950 with a slight up swing again at the end of the 20th century. In other words, the U.S. is not in the midst of an increase in extreme heat. That occurred in the middle portion of the last century. In fact, the last time a major city in the U.P. reached 100 was in June 1995 in Iron Mountain. The time before that was 40 years earlier in 1955.