5 DC heat waves that were really, really bad

- When D.C. hit 98° a week ago, it would have been nice to say that was as bad as it would get this summer. That would only be wishful thinking however – as temperatures are expected to soar to near 100° by the time the weekend arrives.

Heat is something we deal with in DC seemingly once every summer. The coming heat is by no means unprecedented, but it may be the hottest stretch of days since 2012. It’s always important to remember your heat safety tips as well: avoid strenuous exercise during the afternoon, drink plenty of water, keep cool in the AC or head to the pool, etc. FOX 5 does not want to run any stories of children or animals being trapped in cars this weekend, so please be smart and double check before you lock your car.

With high heat on the horizon, it is sometimes nice to look back and say “Hey…it’s been worse!”  So, here are five times when D.C.  was almost too hot to handle: 

5. July 25 - August 14, 1980

The summer of 1980 was one that few living in the American Midwest will ever forget. A massive drought gripped the region, leading to massive crop failures. In total, an estimated $20 billion dollars of agricultural damage was done as wave after wave of 100 degree heat gripped the region.

It was also one of the deadliest in the country’s history, killing over 1,700 people. Heat bubbled to the East Coast from time to time, but was most sustained from late July to early August, when a record 21 days in a row went above the 90 degree mark in Washington, DC.

The heat wave peaked with two 100° days in the nation's capital before finally subsiding. 

Number of Days Above 90° In A Row: 21
Number of Days Above 95°: 11
Number of Days Above 100°: 2
Peak Temp: 100°

4. July 29 - August 18, 1988

Droughts lead to dry soil, and dry soil heats up much faster than moist soil, so it is not surprise that the deadliest heat wave in United States history came on the heels of one of the nation’s worst droughts. The drought is estimated to have caused $120 billion in damages and killed anywhere from 5,000-17,000 people.

The worst dust storms since the dust bowl of the 1930s affected portions of the Northern Plains and Midwest. Washington, DC saw its second driest June on record, with the heat following in July.

The worst period began on July 29th, when DC would begin a record-tying three week stretch of 90° days less than a decade after setting the first.

Number of Days Above 90° In A Row: 21
Number of Days Above 95°: 9
Number of Days Above 100°: 2
Peak Temp: 103°

3. July 18 - August 2, 2011

The first of two entries on this list from the past 5 years, the summer of 2011 is now remember as being the hottest summer on record in the continental United States. The heat wave is particularly remembered in Dallas where a record 71 days in a row featured temperatures exceeding 100°. Even portions of Canada were not sparred as Toronto saw their heat index soared to 124° on July 21st.

The worst of the heat reached DC by mid-July and the heat did not let up for over two weeks. Dulles airport set their all-time record high of 105° on July 22nd, while the heat index in downtown Washington rose to the second highest of all time at 121°.

DC twice tied all-time record warm low temperatures when the air temperature failed to fall below 84°. The month of July would go on to be the hottest July in DC history.

Number of Days Above 90° In A Row: 16
Number of Days Above 95°: 12
Number of Days Above 100°: 4
Peak Temp: 104°

2. June 28 - July 8, 2012

The most recent entry on this list, the heat wave the gripped DC during the middle of the summer of 2012 was memorable for several reasons. It remains the longest stretch of days in a row above 95° in the city on record. At its worst, DC saw four days in a row above 100°, peaking within one degree of the all-time record high at Reagan National.

The heat wave is perhaps best remembered for how it started. After reaching 102° on June 29th, one of the most destructive thunderstorm complexes in United States history tore a path of destruction from Chicago, IL to Washington, DC killing 28 people and causing nearly $3 billion in damages.

The storms knocked our power (and air conditioning) to nearly 4 million people including a million around the DC region, which was a major problem the next day as temperatures soared into the upper 90s. Many remained without power for nearly a week as the heat wave stretched on.

Number of Days Above 90° In A Row: 11
Number of Days Above 95°: 11
Number of Days Above 100°: 5
Peak Temp: 105°

1. July 18 - July 29, 1930

Anyone remember this one? I had a hard time deciding whether or not this event or 2012 should rank as the worst heat wave in DC history, but an extra hundred degree day and the fact it came at a time when not many had air conditioning made all the difference.

The 1930 are known as the “dirty thirties” for a reason. Prolonged droughts brought several well-known heat waves to the United States including those of 1934 and 1936 during a period now famously known as the “dust bowl”. For the DC region however, the worst of the heat came during the summer of 1930.

The heat wave began on July 18th in the 90s with DC breaking 100° the very next day. On July 20th, DC saw the thermostat hit 106°, which remains to this day as the hottest temperature in the district’s history. Unofficially the same day, 110° reading was taken near the White House.

Despite only lasting 12 days, half of those days saw temperatures over 100°. Adding to the extreme were two miniature heat waves immediately following this in early August, providing 5 more day at or above 100°. In the 22 day span beginning July 19th, 11 days at or above 100° were recorded, another DC record that has yet to be broken.

Number of Days Above 90° In A Row: 12
Number of Days Above 95°: 9
Number of Days Above 100°: 6
Peak Temp: 106°

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