Local Weather History: Top Two Worst Heat Waves from Each Decade for the Viewing Area

Based on lots of research here are the worst heat waves from each decade.

Posted: Jul 27, 2020 8:13 PM
Updated: Aug 8, 2020 7:12 PM


July 17-23, 2011


June 28-July 7, 2012

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June 23-28, 2005


August 5-13, 2007

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July 11-17, 1995


July 20-August 1, 1999

Both torrid heat indices



July 10-20, 1980


July 9-31, 1983

Historic heat wave gripped the area with widespread flash drought after an early March oddity & then an unusually cold, wet spring.  

Record cold occurred in late March with lows near 0 on March 23, then the temperature did not exceed 60 until April 13 for one raw, awful spring after temperatures as high as 77 March 2-9.  March 5-7 did not see any low temperatures drop below the 50s to around 60.

The temperature finally reached 72 on April 25 after a low of 31 in the morning.  April 26-June 4 only saw the temperature reach 80 ONCE!

Sudden shut off of rainfall & uptick in the temperature as pattern did a 180 in mid-June.  From June 16-July 30 only around 1" of rain fell & measurable rainfall only occurred on 6 days.  After 98-100 August 19, 20 & 21, at least more than 2" of rain fell on August 28, but we still hit 97 at West Lafayette on September 10.

In the long-lasting July 9-31 heat wave,  10 days saw lows in the 70s & 6 days saw 100s with 4 consecutive days in the 100s July 20-23.  July 22 saw the temperature reach 105 with a low of 74.

The long-lasting nature of this heat had a significant psychological effect & crops planted late after a cool, wet spring were not adapted to the sudden flash drought & extreme heat.


Still working on this one quite a bit. 

Looking at hourly observations to determine which heat wave would be qualify as two worst of the 1980s.

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July 4-8, 1977

Known for a historic derecho that rakes the Great Lakes on the Fourth of July, it occurred on the periphery of intense heat & some of the hottest weather of the 1970s, it was the longest duration of intense heat in the 70s.  July 4th high reached 97 with a low of 73, but the max temperature of this heat wave was 100 on July 6 with a heat index to 109.  All observations sites peaked in the upper 90s to 100.

July 12-20, 1977

In this heat wave, 10 consecutive days saw lows in the 70s with a peak temperature of 96.  April 3-August 3 saw only one day with rainfall that exceeded 0.50" at West Lafayette.

Sim June & July 1977 were quite dry & hot in the viewing area, however, early August suddenly turned very wet & active.  1977 is still the wettest August on record at Delphi (11.35"), West Lafayette (9.44"), Frankfort (9.08"), Kentland (11.02"), Romney (9.78"), Monticello (9.69"), Kokomo (9.54") & Wabash (9.02").

What's interesting is that most of this fell August 5-12 as a stationary front brought rounds of showers & t'storms to the area including a severe squall line on the morning of August 6. From August 5-7 alone, 4.04" of rain fell at West Lafayette & 3.64" at Delphi. Additionally, another 3.78" fell on August 10 at Delphi.  Flash flooding occurred in the area for several days.

Overall, there was a lack of heat waves in the 1970s, however, just like the 1960s.  The 1955-79 period was known for a lack of sustained, intense heat waves.



September 6-10, 1964

Other than 1.33" August 21-22 from tropical remnants, it was very dry from July 19-November 28 with severe, worsening drought.  Temperature peaked at 97 on September 10, but the dry air & longer nights led to large diurnal temperature changes with lows in the 50s & 60s, despite temperatures pushing 100.

Biggest issue with this heat wave was increasing fire danger & the continued drop of water in wells as long-duration drought continued, which really began in 1962, subsided, then ramped up in 1963 & continued into 1964 with worsening conditions.

1960s maximum growing season temperatures showed a tendency to occur late in the year (late August to September) when dry weather & drought tended to peak.

July 9-13, 1966

We were in drought with crop stress, but the worst of the 1966 drought (historic drought) was in the Mid-Atlantic & Northeast with widespread water restrictions.

June 22-July 5 saw each day reach the 90s except one.  The following July 9-13 heat wave saw two days reach or exceed 100 at West Lafayette (100, 101).  June 16-July 11 saw only 0.28" of rain with the heat with only 5 days since March 1 seeing a day with more than 0.50" of rainfall or precipitation.

However from June 1-August 31, only 7 nights saw lows that failed to drop below 70, showing the dry soil & drought promoting cooling at night.  The warmest two nights of the summer were July 12 & 13 at 73 & 74 respectively.

There was a drought in 1962, 1963, 1964 & 1966, but there was an overall lack of heat waves in the 1960s.



June 24-July 3, 1952

What made this heat wave so bad was the intense heat along with the high humidity from wet soils of heavy rainfall.  It was much like the oppressive heat with +75 dew points in 2005, 1999, 1995, 1980 with +110 heat indices widespread & many reports of "heat prostration".

From June 12-23, 6.15" rainfall occurred at the Purdue site with 3.03" alone on June 14 in the "Ring of Fire" with multiple "Ridge Riders".

As intense, hot ridge moved over the area, over these wet soils with lush vegetation & transpiring corn, the result was extreme heat indices & unusually oppressive nights where the temperature only dropped below 80 briefly.

Every day saw the heat index exceed 105 in this heat wave.  The high of 100 on June 30 was accompanied by a heat index of 118.  6 nights had low temperatures in the upper 70s to around 80.

Relief arrived on July 4 with highs in the 80s & lows in the lower 60s, however 4 more 90s days followed, but it was not as humid.

This still ranks as one of the most dangerous heat waves on record for the area due to the extreme heat indices.

June 20-26, 1953

This heat wave was highly impactful due to persistent dry weather & the heat occurring at a critical time for crops & significant yield loss resulted as the summer was hot & dry overall.

This was of long-duration with temperatures exceeded 95 & even 100 at times for 10 consecutive days in parts of the area. West Lafayette & Rensselaer ended up peaking at 102 with the heat wave lasting for 7 days.  Crawfordsville reached 102. Delphi, Logansport & Wheatfield peaked at 103, while Rochester & Kokomo peaked at 101.
Rochester had 5 of 10 days at or above 100, while two days of 100 or greater occurred at Delphi with 3 days at 98 or 99. Wheatfield had 3 days at or above 100, as well with 98 or 99 on two other days.

Drought extended into 1954 & for some areas, 1954 was as bad as 1953.  At West Lafayette, July 12-15, 1954 saw a peak temperature of 106, but it was only 4 days, so it does not count as a heat wave.  It has to be 5 days or more to be a heat wave, though other locations did have a heat wave with frequent, but relatively short heat waves in the summer of 1954.



July 18-August 5, 1940

To add insult to injury, extreme heat & drought seemed to be the norm after the brutal decade of the 1930s. 

Heat & drought encompassed the area with brutal heat as the rough summer of 1940 lingered on. Whitestown, in Boone County, had an outstanding 7 consecutive days with high temperatures at or above 100 degrees with a peak of 104 on July 30. At Wheatfield, 6 of the 7 days hit or exceed 100 with 103 on July 25 & 29th, while Kokomo exceeded 100 on 6 of 7 days with 103 on the 28th & 29th. West Lafayette had 100 on the 24th & 101 on the 30th with the other days hovering at 97-99. Rensselaer reached 105 on July 24 with 5 of 7 days at or above 100.

July 25-August 4, 1941




July 3-18, 1936

This unprecedented, historic heat wave reached a climax on July 14 with an all-time state heat record of 116 near Rensselaer (Collegeville). Wheatfield & Whitestown hit 112, West Lafayette 111, Kokomo & Delphi 110, Crawfordsville 109, Rochester & Marion 108.
Rensselaer remarkably reached 110 or greater on 7 days July 6-17 of 100 or greater. In a stretch of 13 consecutive days at or above 100, July 12, 13 & 14 hit or exceeded 110. At Wheatfield, of 11 days at or above 100 degrees, an amazing 6 days were at or above 110. Exceptional drought gripped the region & many deaths were reported from the heat.

The last substantial rainfall was May 1 with 1.72" at Purdue.  Very little rain fell until August 6 with 0.81".  Finally, 1.31" fell August 26.

July 14-29, 1934

This marked the beginning of a historic heat wave that was the worst on record until 1936. For 6 consecutive days, temperatures hit or exceeded 110 in the viewing area. Rensselaer hit extreme highs of 112, 113, 112, 111, 112 & 111 July 20-25. Delphi hit 112 on July 21 & 24. Kokomo hit 108 on the 21& 24, while Crawfordsville had 107, 107 & 108 July 23-25. West Lafayette was 1 degree away from the all-time record high of 111 with 110 on July 23 & 25. Even Wheatfield topped 112 on July 22 & 23.
Extreme to Exceptional drought also burned the viewing area, but 1.17" of rainfall followed this heat wave at Purdue on August 10 at least. 



June 29-July 15, 1921


August 29-September 11, 1925

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June 30-July 11, 1911

June 27-July 5, 1913 or July 4-July 13, 1914 or July 20-27, 1914 or July 22-31, 1916 or August 3-7, 1918 (103)

14, 10, 8, 10, 4

More soon....working on this one especially.  Need to look at humidity levels, overnight lows, crop stress & yields, drought status, heat exhaustion cases, etc.



August 4-11, 1900

Torrid heat indices

July 1901

Great Heat Wave and drought of 1901 was in full swing in late July with readings as high as 111° in Indiana, comparable with 1936. “There were many prostrations and numerous deaths from the heat during both of these hot waves”, according to the Weather Bureau (pre-cursor to NOAA) Monthly Weather Review.
West Lafayette had 104° on July 21, 22 & 23 with Logansport at 105° on July 21 & 22, while Rensselaer reached 105° on July 21 & 22, as well. Marion, Indiana peaked at 105° on July 24 & Kokomo hit 102 on the 21 & 22.

There was a very intense round of heat with +110 heat indices in August 1905 with "many deaths from heat prostration", but it did not qualify as a heat wave, as it was only 3-4 days.

Overall, there is a lack of heat waves in the 1900s, however.  Other than 1905, these were the two main heat waves of the decade.



May 28-June 4, 1895

Very high impact on crops in record-dry spring.  Lack of precipitation since February.

September 5-16, 1897

92/46 October 1

101 September 5, 1899

Lots of heat waves & drought 1894-1897

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August 24-31, 1881

Massive wildfires sweep the forests of Michigan & Wisconsin, engulfing the Midwest & East, then northeast U.S. in a yellow sky & blue sun from the smoke.

These were the worst fires since 1871 & the worst until 1887, then 1895. For days, our skies were yellow with bluish sun from smoke as smoke drifted southward, before drifting eastward.

1881 was one of the hottest, driest summers to fall for any year. Late August to early September 1881 exhibited some of the hottest weather recorded so late in the season. Temperatures reached the upper 90s & 100s across the viewing area. This was followed by the hottest September day ever recorded in the Northeast as the heat wave moved eastward.

However, amidst this heat wave, 

July 25-August 5, 1887

Worst drought & hottest weather since the severe drought& heat waves of 1881 occurred in Summer 1887. In the Weather Bureau Monthly Weather Review for our section of Indiana: Eel River at “lowest level in 25 years”………“mills supplied by it are obliged to suspend operations”……..“extremely hot & dry weather continues in this section. Many farmers report that even though the rain should fall at this time the corn crop would be short. Grass is dying & in some localities stock are suffering from want of water.” “………..the corn is actually burning up from the excessively hot weather”. Prof. H.A. Huston of Purdue University stated in the Weather Bureau’s Monthly Weather Review of 1887 that, “the temperature for the month has been extraordinarily high, the mean for the state 5-6 above normal…………several stations a maximum of 105 was recorded……..only one July that the rainfall has been less than this & that was in 1881.” The 106 at Logansport this month was the hottest since the hot summer of 1874& the 105 at Lafayette was the hottest since 1881. The thermometer exceeded 100 on 13 days at West Lafayette from July 13 to August 10. From July 5 to August 20, only 0.44” of rainfall was recorded at West Lafayette.



June 24-30, 1870 

Mean temperature for the last 7 days of June 84.5  June 29, 85 at 7 a.m. & 98 at 2 p.m.

July 4-9, 1874

June 19-28, 1874 June 26-July 15 lows did not drop below 70

June 28, July 7 hottest days of the summer & warmest nights of the summer

Chicago hit 99 on July 6 & hit 98 on July 25. June 21-July 9 saw 12 of 19 days with lows in the 70s.  Several nights only dropped into the upper 70s.

At Moline, Illinois June 20-July 14 every night but 4 had lows in the 70s.  All but 6 days saw 90s & 3 days reached as high as 98.  Even August 8, the high was 95 with a low of 80 with strong southerly winds all night & high dew points in the mid to upper 70s.

June 2-16 heavy rainfall around.

At Louisville, Kentucky, 51% of the days June 1-August 22 were in the 90s.  4 days reached 100-102.  On June 28, the low was 80 (followed by high of 100.................though low was a much-better 63 on July 1, but the high was 90).   

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July 1868 

July 15 105 Rensselaer, 103 Lafayette

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July 1854

July 12-18, 1859 

Rensselaer 106 on July 15.

100s July 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18

104, 104, 94, 105, 102, 100, 104

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With a streak of hot, hot, drought years, 1838-41, tempers began to continually flair & desparation hit its peak in the summer of 1841 for the Midwest & Ohio Valley.  Crop failures & lack of employment caused riots in some cities.  The worst was in Cincinnati, Ohio where unemployment in the river port from crop failure (& increasing lack of food) combined with on-going racial tension to make for days of violent riots in the streets.

July 12-18, 1846

The summer drought of 1846 sparked the “Attica & Covington War”.
The summer of 1846 was hot& dry with +100 readings in June & July on several days. Heat is said to have peaked in Tippecanoe & Cass County in mid July with 5 days above 100 with well-below normal rainfall that withered away vegetation. At Crown Point, Indiana it was called “a very hot, very dry summer”. With deaths from the heat & wells low & typhoid rampant, it was a rough June-August. 
The extreme drought caused the “Attica and Covington War”, which was further enhanced by short tempers from the extreme heat & deaths. Unfortunately, the canal was to be opened in this hot, dry summer. At the time of its opening, the water was so low in the Wabash, there was only enough water to fill the canal to Attica & not Covington & the first boats were grounded at Covington. Unknowingly, Covington residents thought Attica used the lock to purposely block canal use to Covington. Covington Senator Hannegan (home from work in Washington D.C.) got folks together to go up to Attica & physically unlock the gate in the night, but could not do so. Next morning Senator Hannegan and 300 townsmen and farmers armed with clubs again ran up the river to Attica. Before the battle & dispute ensued, Attica was overtaken & the Covington citizens opened the flood gate.
No one won from this………there was so little water, by the time it got to Covington, it was a few inches of mud & no commerce could take place. Appreciable rains arrive by early fall & the canal was filled beyond capacity.
Addingly, 1846 was reportedly the warmest year of the 19th century until 1878 at Minneapolis. 1846 ranks as one of the warmest in St. Louis & Chicago in the 1800s. 1846 also ranked as one of the hottest summers in the 1840-1900 period, comparable to 1838, 1839, 1841, 1881 & 1887.

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July 1838

Drought of 1838 in full swing with extremely dry, hot summer weather continuing.

The horrific human toll makes this summer-fall & peak of a heat wave makes this one of the worst on record with 1936. 

It was during this time that our native Potowattamie people were driven from their land after a long fight unto the Trail of Tears.  In this brutal season, heat stroke, dehydration deaths, starvation & cholera set in among the Native Americans.  In this massive humanitarian crisis & tragedy, numerous deaths of the Native Americans continued daily & accelerated with the intensifying heat & drought.

The peak in the heat occurred with

On the Trail of Tears, one government official stated:
“Reached camp near Williamsport at 4 p.m. As we advance farther into the country of the prairies, water becomes more scarce - the streams are literally dried up and we have reason to fear that unless soon refreshed with rain, our future marches will be attended with much pain, and suffering. 2 deaths took place this evening.”
An emigrating party on the Trail of Tears, which were leading the Native Potowattamies west stated on the 14th, “A few minutes travel brought us to the Grand Prairie, a portion of which we passed over, arriving at our present Encampment at Danville, Ill., at about 3 o’clk. P. M. The heat along with the dust is daily rendering our march more distressing. The houses are jaded the Indians sickly and many of the persons engaged in the emigration more of less sick.”
On September 24 in central Illinois near Springfield: “Our march today was through a very dry region of Country. We are now encamped on a stream affording little water.”
In west-central Illinois on October 2: “The day was excessively warm and the dust very afflicting, added to which water was scarcely to be found on the route.” “Water on the route was only to be found in stagnant ponds.”





June 7-12, 1820


August 8-14, 1820



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