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Northwestern heat wave draws parallels to hottest week on record in North Dakota

July 6-16, 1936, featured nine days of 100-degree weather in Fargo.

This picture shows several people swimming in the Red River to cool off during a heat wave in July of 1936, when Fargo hit 100 degrees for nine days during a two-week period. Photo courtesy of NDSU Archives
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FARGO — People living in the Pacific Northwest in the United States have had excessive heat warnings for several days, as temps rise well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

The triple-digit weather has been around longer than what parts of North Dakota experienced earlier this month, when some cities topped 100 degrees twice.

According to WDAY StormTRACKER Meterologist John Wheeler, determining how long this kind of hot weather can stick around depends on two key factors.

"We're getting unusual temperatures because of compressional heating and parched soil," he said. "Those two things together allowed for this crazy heat."


Wheeler added this was also the case in July of 1936 statewide, specifically during the period of July 6 through July 16, the hottest two weeks on record.

Clippings from the then-Fargo Forum during that time show temperatures reached highs in the 110s, and lows in the 70s.

Crop fields looked more like sand dunes during a dry period in July of 1936, the same time as a record-breaking heat wave in North Dakota. Photo courtesy of NDSU Archives

Pictures collected by archivists at North Dakota State University show people needed to swim in rivers to cool off, and crop fields looking more like sand dunes.

"(The drought was) many years of lack of rain, and 1936 was in the midst of that whole situation," said John Hallberg, the lead archives associate at NDSU.

Hallberg has pulled many things from 1936 out of his time capsule, from pictures, to newspaper headlines to diary entries written by North Dakota politician S.A. Olsness , who was staying in downtown Fargo during the heat wave.


"'While the people try to appear cheery, and some even merry, there's a great underlying anguish lurking from beneath the surface,'" Hallberg read from Olsness's diary entry from July 8, 1936, two days after Fargo recorded its hottest temperature on record at 114 degrees.

While the area has experienced similar dryness this year, especially out in fields, Wheeler said this year's statewide drought isn't quite to 1936 levels.

"We could conceivably get a heat dome this summer that would build in and really dry things up, but something like that here is probably more likely if this drought persists for several years," he said.

As Fargo reached 114 degrees on July 6, 1936, it wasn't the hottest town in the state that day, as the town of Steele, N.D., reached 121 degrees.

Related Topics: HISTORY
Tanner Robinson is a producer for First News on WDAY-TV.
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