A brief but intense heat wave developed in the central and eastern United States in mid-July 1995, causing hundreds of fatalities. The most notable feature of this event was the development of very high dewpoint temperature (Td) over the southern Great Lakes region and the Upper Mississippi River Basin. At many locations, hourly values of Td set new records. The combination of high air and dewpoint temperatures resulted in daily average apparent temperatures exceeding 36°C over a large area on some days. A comparison with past heat waves shows that this was the most intense short-duration heat wave in at least the last 48 years at some locations in the southern Great Lakes region and Upper Mississippi River Basin. An analysis of historical data for Chicago, where the majority of fatalities occurred, indicates the intensity of this heat wave was exceeded only by a few periods in the 1910s and 1930s. Impacts in the Chicago urban center were exacerbated by an urban heat island that raised nocturnal temperatures by more than 2°C. An analysis of radiosonde data indicates that maximum daytime boundary layer mixing depths were only a few hundred meters in the core region of the heat wave. Simulations using a single-column version of a three-dimensional mesoscale model strongly suggest that this contributed to the very high values of Td since soil moisture in the central United States was near to above average and evapotransporation was likely high, causing a rapid moistening of the shallow boundary layer.

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*Midwestern Climate Center, Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, Illinois.

+Department of Agronomy, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.