1980 was hot. It was unusual in terms of how long the heat lasted. The heat wave started about June 22 and did not abate until September 17. . .
Last year about this time, I wrote about the summer of 1954 as the hottest summer on record in the Ozarks. During that summer, Joplin recorded thirty-nine days on which the temperature topped out above 100, including twelve straight days in July. The official weather stations at Joplin, Springfield, and Rolla each recorded its highest temperature on record during that summer. Even this summer, when the local weatherman gives the highest temperature on record for a certain date, I notice that 1954 still often pops up for the particular date in question. I was only seven years old during the summer of 1954, but I remember the heat of that summer fairly well. Not that heat bothered me as a kid the way it bothers me today as an old man, but I think anything out of the ordinary, be it a weather phenomenon or the circus coming to town, makes a bigger impression on young people that it does on older people.
However, I also recognize that we’ve had some pretty hot summers in the Ozarks since I’ve been an adult. One that stands out in my memory is the summer of 1980. The heat wave was not quite as extreme as in 1954. For instance, the high temperature in Springfield in 1980 occurred on July 30 with a reading of 105 degrees. By comparison, the summer of 1954 had several days when the temperature soared above 110.
However, 1980 was probably worse in terms of how long the unusual heat lasted. The heat wave started about June 22 and did not abate until September 17. The fact that the heat wave extended well into September several weeks after school had started is the part I remember most vividly about the summer of 1980. I was teaching school at the time, and the school did not have air conditioning. The mornings weren't bad, but afternoon classes were torturous for both teachers and students as temperatures approached or passed 100 degrees day after day. It was hard to get much school taught after about one o’clock in the afternoon.
The drought and heat wave of 1980 may also have been a little more widespread than the one in 1954, as it covered not just the Ozarks and not just the Midwest but even parts of the East. It may have been more deadly than the 1954 heat wave, too. Approximately 1,250 people died nationwide as a result of the 1980 heat wave. In St. Louis alone 153 died. I wasn't able to find a nationwide estimate for 1954, but 104 people died in St. Louis, including twenty on a single day, July 14, when the thermometer soared to a record 115 degrees.
As I said last year, I think that, even though 1954 still holds the record for the hottest summer in the Ozarks, the overall trend is toward increasingly hot temperatures. We may not always notice it here in our little niche of the planet, but statistics show that temperatures continue to get hotter worldwide. Some of us may still want to argue about the causes of global warming, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not happening.
Larry Wood is a freelance writer specializing in the history of Missouri and the Ozarks. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or like his author Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorLarryWood/.