The highest recorded temperature in Illinois, 117°F (47.2°C) occurred on 14 July 1954 in East St. Louis. This occurred in the midst of a widespread, long-lasting heat wave covering significant parts of 11 states: from eastern Colorado through Kansas, Oklahoma, part of Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas, southern Illinois, and extending to western Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and parts of the Carolinas. According to historical climate data, this event ranked as one of the top five extended periods of heat in these states since 1895. No such prolonged heat wave has occurred in the Midwest since 1954. It stands to reason that since prolonged widespread heat waves have occurred in the last 100 years, there is a distinct possibility that they will occur again, and reviewing past impacts could help us plan for future events.
This research examines the impacts of the heat felt in the Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas region, as well as the responses to the extreme temperatures. Impacts on human health and well-being, water resources, utilities, agriculture, and commerce are described, as well as responses by individuals, communities, and governmental bodies. The extreme heat resulted in many deaths and much discomfort. Sizeable infrastructure repair costs from buckled streets and warped railroad ties were accrued in 1954. Energy and water resources were significantly strained. However, the most costly governmental interventions were those related to the agricultural community. Recent activities in heat wave and drought preparedness that may help alleviate impacts of future heat waves are discussed.
An expected outcome of global warming is the increased prevalence of intense heat waves (Solomon et al. 2007). Since 1980, a number of heat waves have occurred in the Midwest (e.g., Karl and Quayle 1981; Kunkel et al. 1996; Palecki et al. 2001). However, for this region, the most recent prolonged and devastating heat wave occurred during the season of 1954. During this period, the highest recorded temperature in Illinois was observed, 47.2°C (117°F). This heat wave extended from the last week in June through the first week of September and covered significant parts of 11 states: from eastern Colorado through Kansas, Oklahoma, part of Texas, Missouri and Arkansas, southern Illinois, and reached southeastward to western Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and parts of the Carolinas (Fig. 1). According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Division data, this ranked as one of the top five extended periods of heat in these states since 1895.
To shed light on how such a heat wave might impact a region in anticipation of future heat waves here or elsewhere, this research first describes the heat wave and then examines the effects of and the responses to the prolonged extreme heat in the Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas region. This research largely draws on anecdotal evidence extracted from newspaper reports from two prominent urban areas, St Louis and Kansas City, to determine the impact of the extreme heat on human health and well-being, water resources, utilities, agriculture, and commerce, as well as the responses by individuals, communities, and governmental bodies. Recent advances important to climate adaptation, as well as areas of concern, are discussed.
This study focuses on two large urban areas in the 1954 heat wave region. According to the 1950 census, St. Louis, Missouri, and Kansas City, Missouri, were the two largest cities in terms of population located within the affected Midwest region and were in the top 20 cities in the United States. Archives of the St. Louis Post Dispatch (SLPD), the Kansas City Star (KCS), and Kansas City Times (KCT) were examined to determine the impacts of the extreme heat and responses by individuals, communities, and governmental bodies. Evidence on impacts that could be found in research reports and literature also are presented.
NOAA U.S. Climate Division mean monthly temperature data for June–September were employed to rank the severity of the 1954 heat wave. Historical corn yields were obtained from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) for the Midwest. County and state yields, however, were unavailable for Kansas for the years prior to 1958.
Daily National Weather Service (NWS) Cooperative observer data obtained from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center were used to describe the heat wave event and to place the 1954 heat wave into a historical perspective. Data quality controlled as part of the Climate Database Modernization Program (CDMP) Forts project (Westcott et al. 2011) were available for St. Louis from 1845–95. Prior to 1877, maximum and minimum temperatures were based on temperatures observed three times daily (0700, 1400, and 2100 LST), rather than observed with a maximum/ minimum thermometer, and thus may not accurately represent the actual maximum and minimum temperature. The actual maximum temperature may be higher and the minimum temperature may be lower than temperatures observed at those three times.
3. Heat wave description
In St Louis, Missouri, temperatures at or above 37.8°C (100°F) occurred throughout the summer from the last week of June, in various runs of multiple days in July and August, followed by more 37.8°C temperatures during the first week of September 1954. The record temperature in the St. Louis area was 47.2°C (117°F) at 1700 LST on 14 July 1954 in East St. Louis. The warmest night of the year occurred on 18 July 1954, with an average nighttime temperature of 29.4°C (85°F), also at the East St. Louis site. At the St. Louis Lambert International Airport, temperatures of at least 37.8°C (100°F) were observed on 22 days from the last week in June through the first week of September 1954 (Fig. 2a), or 1 out of every 4 days. Typically, based on the period of record (1930–2009), the average number of 37.8°C days is 3 at this site. Temperatures ≥35°C (95°F) occurred on 51 days (average 14 days) and ≥32.2°C (90°F) on 79 days (average 40 days), or more than 2 out of every 3 days.
Similar weather was observed in Kansas City, with temperatures of at least 37.8°C (100°F) observed in the last week of June and the first week of July 1954, in two successive 5-day periods, with a brief respite from 30 June to 1 July 1954. Another five-day streak of 37.8°C temperatures began on 2 July, followed by a 4-day heat streak in mid-July. Temperatures reached 43.9°C (111°F) on 13 July 1954 and 44.4°C (112°F) on 14 July 1954 in Kansas City. There were 15 days in July with temperatures of 37.8°C (100°F) or more, and 7 days in August (3–4, 15–17, and 28–29). Prior to 1954, August record highs had been below 37.8°C (100°F) for Kansas City. While temperatures remained above average in September, the final three days of 37.8°C (100°F) temperatures occurred on 2–4 September 1954. At Olathe, Kansas (near Kansas City, Missouri), with averages based on the 1893–2009 period, there were 31 days of at least 37.8°C, (average 5 days), 52 days with temperatures of 35°C or more (average, 17 days), and 80 days with temperatures of 32.2°C or more (average 41 days).
Nighttime temperatures also were high during this summer, indicative of high dewpoint temperatures and humid air (Fig. 2b). On average at St Louis Lambert, 43 24-h periods occur from June through September with minimum temperatures ≥21.1°C (70°F), but in 1954, there were 61. At Olathe, on average 29 24-h periods occur with minimum temperatures of >21.1°C, but there were 48 in 1954. Humid nights are not uncommon in St. Louis. Since 1954, there have been 6 summers with comparable frequencies of warm nighttime temperatures, with 5 occurring since 1979. Although Olathe is less humid than St. Louis, about double the average number of humid nights occurred in 1954, as estimated by the minimum temperature.
The summer heat of 1954 followed a severe drought. 1953 was an extremely dry year, with only 58 cm (23 inches) of precipitation, compared to an average of about 99 cm (39 inches) at St Louis. The period of 1 June 1953–31 May 1954, had only 41 cm (16.4 inches) of precipitation, about 42% of normal. Similarly at Olathe, on average there is about 92 cm (36.4 inches) of precipitation per year whereas from 1 June 1953 to 31 May 1954 there had been only 54 cm (20.3 inches), about 56% of normal. During the summer of 1954 (June–August) below average precipitation was reported at St. Louis Lambert Airport (Fig. 2c) and at Olathe in June and July, but above average precipitation occurred in August 1954.
In the central Midwest, such widespread, extended periods of extreme temperatures have not been observed since the 1950s, although ≥10 37.8°C (100°F) days, ≥30 35°C (95°F), and ≥60 32.2°C (90°F) days were observed in 1980, 1983, 1988, and 2011 at St. Louis. Only 1913, 1918, 1934, and 1936 had more 37.8°C days at Olathe. Further, 1954 was the third consecutive year with high summer temperatures in this region. Record temperatures that had been set in the mid-1930s were broken during the period 1952–54. Figure 3 presents the average number of days equaling or exceeding 37.8°C (100°F), and a 5-yr running mean of the number of days exceeding 37.8°, 35°, and 32.2°C (100°, 95°, and 90°F), for St. Louis from 1845–present. This time series was based on a single CDMP Fort location in urban St. Louis for the period prior to 1895 and from multiple NWS Cooperative stations within the metropolitan area during more recent years (Fig. 4). The total number of days exceeding the threshold was averaged based on the available sites during each June–September season. Prior to 1914 only 1 or 2 stations were present and from 1914 to present between 3 and 6 sites were present in the St. Louis area.
It can be seen in Fig. 3 that the frequency of 37.8°C and even 32.2°C days has decreased since the 1950s, as noted by Changnon et al. (2010). This summer cooling trend or “warming hole” as discussed in Robinson et al. (2002) and Pan et al. (2009) has been simulated by a regional climate model (Kunkel et al. 2006). The cause of this relative cooling is still unclear, and global climate models indicate more high temperatures over time (Solomon et al. 2007). Regardless, it would stand to reason that since such prolonged widespread heat waves have occurred in the last 100 years, there is a distinct possibility that they could occur again. Thus, investigating the impacts of such an event based on the reported experience of those living through a devastating heat wave may help us better prepare for future events.
a. General welfare and infrastructure
From mid-June through 18 July 1954, 137 deaths were attributed to the heat in Missouri and 47 deaths in Kansas, including 19 patients in mental hospitals (Kansas City Times, 19 July 1954). In Wyandotte County (Kansas City, Kansas) during the first 18 days of July there had been more deaths than births, an unusual occurrence blamed on the heat (Kansas City Star, 19 July 1954). The Jackson County (Kansas City, Missouri) coroner reported investigating 159 deaths for the month of July, the largest number reported in a single month in many years. While only 13 of the deaths were from heat prostration, it was thought that most were indirectly related to the extreme temperatures (Kansas City Star, 27 Aug 1954). For the extended period, 12–24 July 1954, 108 deaths in the St. Louis area alone were attributed to the extreme heat. Nationwide, over 300 deaths were attributed to the heat during that time period. Most of deaths were in the 50–90-yr age group (Bridges et al. 1976). The number of deaths due to heat has been traditionally underreported. One reason for this in 1954 is that only those deaths under the jurisdiction of the county coroner and not under the care of an individual’s doctor were reported. Other possible causes of mortality underestimation were outlined in Bridges et al. (1976) and Changnon et al. (1996).
Posey (1981) indicated that 978 deaths occurred in 1954, fewer than during the 1980 heat wave, which resulted in some 1300 deaths. Fewer deaths in 1954 than in more recent heat waves could be that, because 1954 was the third consecutive summer with high temperatures, the populous simply may have learned ways to survive the heat and to help others survive the heat. One way that extreme temperatures were addressed in 1954 was through the purchase of air conditioners (A/Cs). While residential air conditioning is now in widespread use, home window air conditioners were first introduced after World War II (Jones 1997) and most homes did not yet have air conditioning in 1954. In Kansas City, during the summer of 1954, 15 000 air conditioners were sold by 18 July 1954 resulting in a total of about 30 000 homes having access to air conditioning (Kansas City Star, 19 July 1954). In St. Louis, some 30 000 residences had room air conditioners at the beginning of the summer, and it was expected that by the end of the summer there would be 50 000 room A/C units (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 18 July 1954).
Many hospitals were only partially air conditioned. For those in hospital rooms without air conditioners, it was reported that nurses had a difficult time reading the temperatures of patients as thermometers would not go below 100°F (37.8°C, St. Louis Post Dispatch, 13 July 1954). Air-conditioned rooms were not always available even for former presidents. Former President Harry S. Truman, age 70, underwent surgery on 20 June 1954, to remove his gall bladder and appendix. He spent several weeks recuperating in the hospital. It was reported on 25 June that the high temperatures were bothering Mr. Truman during his recuperation. At first he refused to be moved to a room with air conditioning but relented on the afternoon of 26 June at the insistence of Mrs. Truman. He returned to his home in Independence, Missiouri in mid-July after an air-conditioning unit had been installed in his bedroom. (Kansas City Times, 25–26 June 1954, 9 and 12 July 1954; Kansas City Star, 25–28 June 1954). To help speed his recovery, a Cleveland, Ohio, cold-storage plant sent President Truman a box of snow balls about the time temperatures in Kansas City exceeded 109°F (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12 July 1954).
In addition to hospitals, many public buildings, however, did not have air conditioning. When possible, meetings (Kansas City Times, 7 July 1954) and trials (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 20 July 1954) were postponed until air conditioning was installed. Aside from air-conditioning issues, other infrastructure problems were noted. The extreme heat was responsible for such things as contorted railroads tracks caused by expanding rails in Kansas, as well as over 50 instances of streets buckling from the heat (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 15 July 1954). Young trees, evergreens, hedges, and groundcover plants with shallow root systems were particularly vulnerable to the burning sun (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 25 July 1954). Lastly, it was reported that the extreme heat caused a Kansas City weather beacon to malfunction and forecast snow (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12 July 1954).
In Kansas City, animals and people adapted to heat in various ways. Spectators huddled in the shade at the Swope Park Zoo on 4 July hoping to see the animals wander around their habitats. They actually saw the animals led by an ostrich run for the lake in the middle of the habitat upon being released from their indoor enclosures. Many humans also looked for an opportunity to cool off in the water, the first time I read this I thought the people were heading to the same lake in the zoo habitat, as the nearby pool had over 1000 swimmers that day (Kansas City Times, 7 July 1954). An elephant show at the St. Louis zoo was cancelled as the elephants could not tolerate walking on the hot concrete (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12 July 1954). In Abilene, Kanas, a Faith and Freedom day rally was postponed until later in the evening when temperatures cooled (Kansas City Times, 5 July 1954). At the McConnell Air Force base, it was reported that crews in the cockpits of B-47s were enduring heat as high as 157°F before the airplanes were airborne. Afternoon training flights were temporarily discontinued; however, 0500 to 1200 LST flights were doubled, and nighttime flights were extended from 1830 to 0230 LST (Kansas City Star, 17 July 1954).
People had difficulty sleeping because of the warm nighttime temperatures, with some seeking refuge outside, in their backyards, in local parks, or in their basements. Many purchased fans and air conditioners during the summers of 1953 and 1954. The installation of awnings was also popular, particularly for nonshaded, nonair-conditioned homes. One of the larger orders for the St. Louis Home Improvement Company was for vertical venetian-type awnings that took over two months to install at the Wagner Electric office and plant (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 18 July 1954).
b. Water resource issues and utilities
Water resources were greatly impacted by the continuing heat and became a source of contention. Three lakes in the St. Louis area (Creve Coeur Lake, Horseshoe Lake, and a lake system in Grand Marais Park in Illinois) dried up during the summer as a result of silting, extreme heat and drought (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 17 July 1954). Owing to the drought conditions, Missouri Governor Donnelly requested that Dr. Edward Clark, state geologist, begin a geological survey of Missouri’s water supply. He reported that 56 of the 114 counties in Missouri had critically low water conditions, with most of these counties found in southwestern Missouri. Dr. Clark urged that loans be made available to farmers to drill wells and develop community water supplies in these areas to help relieve dry conditions (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 31 July 1954). In early August, President Eisenhower declared 76 counties in Missouri drought disaster areas, and 5 more were added in mid-September (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 16 September 1954). A total of 414 counties in 8 states were declared drought disaster areas (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 15 September 1954).
Water shortage problems were common throughout Kansas and Missouri (Kansas City Times, 4 July 1954), and water rationing was common throughout the region. In Jefferson County, the Raytown Water Company claimed that the watering of sod for new homes resulted in water shortages. The water company went to the Missouri Public Water Commission to see if it could enforce water restrictions by cutting off the water from houses not complying with restrictions (Kansas City Star, 29 June 1954). In response, residents served by the Raytown Water Company signed petitions, which they sent to the Missouri Public Service Commission, stating that the water company was not doing enough to ameliorate the crisis (Kansas City Star, 30 June 1954, 1 July 1954). The cause of the water shortage was reported to be the rapid growth of the suburban population and a deficiency in the Kansas City water distribution system (Kansas City Times, 9 July 1954).
The strain on the St. Louis water supply was first noticed in late June when temperatures began to exceed 100°F (37.8°C). The water company asked residents of St. Louis County to refrain from lawn watering between noon and 2200 LST every day, as daily water consumption exceeded the company’s water supply capacity (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 16 June 1954). Certain areas had weak water pressure or, as in the case of Webster Groves, almost no water at all. There, a water emergency was declared and under penalty of a fine, watering lawns or washing cars was prohibited from 0600 to 2200 LST daily until the crisis was resolved (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 27 June 1954). From 12–14 July 1954, and on 20 July 1954, daily water consumption by city residents reached all-time record levels (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 21 July 1954). Watering restrictions were relaxed after rains in early August (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 2 August 1954).
The 1954 heat wave also strained the utility supplies in Kansas City and St. Louis. Focusing on St. Louis, air conditioner usage resulted in record-breaking water and power use during the summer heat wave. It was reported that about 10%–12% of the city’s water usage on weekdays was from air conditioners using water as a coolant (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 28 June 1954). As a result of heavy air conditioning and thus water use, the president of the water company wanted to add a surcharge of $40 ton−1 of cooling capacity for households using air conditioners that did not in some way conserve water (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 6 August 1954).
The increase in air conditioning units also was believed responsible for the frequent occurrence of circuit overloads tripping safety devices on transformers (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 18 July 1954). It was reported that about 12%–15% of power usage during the summer of 1954 went to cooling city residents (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 10 August 1954). The president of Union Electric reported that, based on the summer of 1953, peak power usage had shifted from December when electricity is used for heating and lighting to the summer when it is used for air conditioning (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 19 June 1954). Both the St. Louis County Water Co. and Union Electric Co. reported record uses of their respective utilities at times during that summer.
Corn yields in particular were heavily impacted by the extreme temperatures throughout the central Midwest, based on data obtained from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). This was especially evident in Missouri and Southern Illinois (Fig. 5). Neither state nor county corn yields were available from NASS for Kansas until 1958. The higher yields in central Illinois and Iowa correspond to regions with lesser numbers of high temperature days from June–August 1954, whereas the poor yields in Missouri and Southern Illinois correspond to regions with more high temperature days (Fig. 6). Average yields in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan tend to be lower than in Iowa and Illinois, no matter the year.
Compared to corn yields today, the 1954 corn yields are of course low as agricultural technology has improved (Fig. 7). However, for individual counties and agricultural reporting districts, these yields were quite low compared to nonheat wave summers in preceding and subsequent years. For example, the west–southwest Illinois Agriculture Climate Division is presented in Fig. 7. The poor yields of the 1930s, 1950s, and the 1980s are apparent. The poor yields in the 1980s were separated by a number of high yield years, whereas in the 1950s poor corn years were experienced over a number of years but with the most devastating in 1954.
The hot, dry weather experienced over much of the Midwest during the summer of 1954 had both positive and negative economic impacts on agriculture. In Kansas, it was reported that the rain and sunshine experienced during the first half of June made conditions excellent for plant growth (Kansas City Star, 18 June 1954). The hot and dry conditions that followed were ideal harvest weather for the Kansas and Missouri winter wheat crop. In eastern Kansas and in Missouri, in June some were predicting record wheat yields (Kansas City Star, 23 June 1954). The harvest occurred early and quickly. By 25 June, harvesting was underway throughout most of Kansas, peaking in early July (Kansas City Star, 6 July 1954). The dry conditions helped to decrease the moisture content of the crop, making it easier to store while waiting for a more optimal time to sell. The winter wheat crop did quite well (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12 August 1954).
In contrast, for some areas of western Kansas (near Garden City in Finney County), the heat and hot, dry winds left the wheat crop “light and shriveled.” Grasshoppers became problematic during this summer (Kansas City Star, 18 July 1954). The hot weather also had an adverse effect on homegrown fruits and vegetables. Fewer tomatoes were available as they stop growing when temperatures get above 90°F (32.2°C). The peach crop was also reported to be smaller than usual (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 1 July 1954).
The continued extreme heat and dryness in July had a negative impact on corn, soybeans, and spring wheat crops. The damage to the corn was particularly devastating as hot, dry conditions continued through the crucial tasseling stage for the corn. By the end of July, some farmers were pulling up damaged corn to use as silage. Some areas reported 100% loss of their crop (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 31 July 1954).
In St. Louis County, some relief from the drought came in August, with 3.2 inches (8.1 cm) of rain falling in St. Louis from 1–11 August 1954. Although some shrubbery and grass in the area turned green during August, the rain was too late for much of the corn and soybean crops. For the county, 75% of the corn crop, 60%–80% of the soybean crop, and about 80% of the small fruit and truck crops (e.g., tomatoes, peppers, and berries) had been lost by mid-August. The adverse weather also allowed wheat farmers to enter into price support programs (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 15 August 1954).
Livestock were particularly hard hit by the heat of the summer of 1954. The hot weather caused the deaths of thousands of poultry (Kansas City Times, 14 July 1954). Egg prices were up (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 19 July 1954); the reasons cited were that “hens lay less in hotter weather,” and that it is harder to maintain the eggs’ quality before they reach the market in such extreme temperatures. Heat and drought conditions also affected livestock prices at the markets. With the extremely high temperatures, cattle, sheep, and hogs were sold earlier than normal, and prices dropped as the demand for meat was down due to the heat (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 17 July 1954). It was reported that a bison herd lost 8 of 124 bison in a 10-day period in July (Kansas City Star, 18 July 1954).
The plight of the farmers was apparent to state and federal policy makers. In mid-July, the U.S. Senate passed a bill allowing the Farm Credit Administration to make long-term loans to drought-stricken farmers and livestock growers to help pay mortgages. Further, Missouri Governor Donnelly called together farm groups from throughout the state to discuss what needed to be done to help the ailing agriculture industry. The conference urged that 1) the federal government begin to purchase beef cattle from drought-stricken farmers in an emergency program, 2) that the entire state be declared a drought disaster area so that federal aid could be obtained, and 3) the Federal Commodity Credit Corporation supply livestock growers with available surplus grain (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 17 July 1954).
The federal government was indeed ready to go through with some of these actions to help both Missouri and Kansas. In particular, it agreed to begin purchasing beef if necessary to prevent a price drop (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 28 July 1954). Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Ross Rizley toured drought-stricken areas of the state and was expected to recommend that all of Missouri be declared a disaster area (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 31 July 1954). However, President Eisenhower declared only 76 of the 114 Missouri counties to be disaster areas. These included most of the counties in the southwestern part of the state (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 4 August 1954). Governor Donnelly again requested that the remaining counties be declared disaster areas as well (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 21 August 1954). In mid-September, 93 additional counties in the United States were declared disaster areas, bringing the total number to 414, with five of the new counties in Missouri (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 15 September 1954). Grants were made by state and federal governments to transport surplus hay to drought-stricken farmers in Kansas and Missouri from 32 states and Canada. The largest shipments were made from the Dakotas and Minnesota (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 22 September 1954).
The hot and dry weather had impacts in economic areas other than agriculture, with some of the impacts positive. While farmers suffered from the heat, many retail stores enjoyed increased sales of warm weather apparel, summer vacation supplies, as well as fans and air-conditioning units (Kansas City Times, 2 July 1954). Many Midwestern vacationers headed to Michigan to escape the heat. Air-conditioned movie theaters saw an increase in patrons as did places selling ice cream and cold beverages. (Kansas City Times, 5 July 1954, 12 July 1954; Kansas City Star, 18 July 1954). The monthly report on the Eighth Federal Reserve District, which includes St. Louis, described the area’s weather as having the “dominant influence” on the district’s trade (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 1 August 1954). It also was reported that despite problems in the agriculture industry, especially in the southern part of the district, “overall farm business activity continued steady.” Further, it was found that while worker productivity decreased slightly because of the heat, the rate of construction was high in July. On some of the hottest days, workers handling metal had to wear gloves to avoid burning their hands (Kansas City Star, 12 July 1954). Department store sales also were up 4%, from the same week in the previous year (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 23 July 1954).
A number of factors could exacerbate the effects of an extended heat wave if it were to occur again, such as population growth and per capita energy usage increases. Suburban populations have increased dramatically in Midwestern cities. The Kansas City Metropolitan area has grown by about 108% to about 1.7 million, and the St. Louis Metropolitan area has grown by about 48% to about 2.6 million since the 1950 census (The Public Purpose 2011a,b).
a. General welfare
In the summer of 1954, the extreme heat resulted in many deaths and much discomfort. People did adapt, however. Individuals sought out swimming pools and air-conditioned theatres and stores. Sales of fans, air conditioners, and awnings for residences and businesses, as well as, cold drinks, ice cream, and warm weather attire were brisk. No such prolonged heat wave has occurred in the Midwest since 1954. A lesser heat wave occurred in 1980 that covered a similar region but did not follow a period of drought nor two prior summers of high temperatures. The 1980 heat wave was found by Karl and Quayle (1981) to result in significant economic loss, and they suggested that the impacts pointed to the increasing dependency of the U.S. economy on what climatologists and meteorologists term “normal” weather. Deaths from the 1980 heat wave were estimated to be larger than for the 1954 heat wave (Posey 1981). Increased vulnerability of humans to excessive heat was also found for Chicago in 1995 (Changnon et al. 1996). While heat-related deaths exceed those of all other weather-related deaths in the United States (Changnon et al. 1996), the prolonged high temperatures as occurred in the 1930s and 1950s still have not been experienced by most living in the Midwest today. One might expect that impacts for such a heat wave today could be even greater than in 1980, as we are not used to such prolonged high temperatures.
Heat waves occurring in the 1980s and particularly in Chicago and St. Louis in the 1990s (Kunkel et al. 1996; Changnon et al. 1996; Palecki et al. 2001), however, served to increase the awareness of governmental agencies and the public at large of the health impacts due to excessive heat. The 18-day 1999 St. Louis heat wave was characterized by temperatures ≥32.2°C (90°F), with 4 days exceeding 37.8°C (100°F). Palecki et al. (2001) found that, at least for this period, the coordinated response by the City of St. Louis and the State of Missouri aided in keeping the number of heat-related deaths to a minimum. This included advance information on the dangers of heat and how to behave during a heat wave, timely advisories and warnings, a help hot line, encouragement to use air conditions and to not fear power outages as local heat sensitive electrical systems had been upgraded, the opening of cooling centers, and the provision of rides to the centers. Local organizations such as churches provided additional help to elderly persons.
As a result of the heat waves of the 1990s, and more recent heat waves in the United States and Europe, the NWS now issues excessive heat and drought advisories accessible to local media and the public and provides web links to Federal Emergency Management Agency. The NOAA Watch Web site (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 2011) provides both warnings of impending severe weather events including excessive heat and drought, as well as information on safety tips for excessive heat. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a large number of cities including St. Louis and Kansas have developed guidelines for individuals and communities addressing health aspects of excessive heat conditions (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2006, 2011). Information provided includes not only planning for a heat wave and how to keep cool in the midst of a heat wave, but also information on techniques to reduce the heat island effect (e.g., green roofs, cooler paving materials, added vegetation).
b. Water resource issues and utilities
1) Water resources
If such a heat wave were to occur without significant planning, water shortages seem likely. Significant advances in planning for water resources use have occurred since the drought of 1954, largely because drought and floods are now perceived to occur on a more regional scale with impacts that can affect commerce on a state, national, or even global scale. In Illinois, eastern Kansas, and Missouri, water supplies are mainly derived from surface water—rivers and reservoirs fed by precipitation. Water resources, such as reservoirs, often are under the control of local municipalities and hence subject to state monitoring and policy initiatives.
During various periods from 1953 to 1957, water shortages were common in various regions of central and southern Illinois (Illinois State Water Survey 2010a), Missouri, and Kansas. In the summer of 1954, some 41 Illinois communities (and 72 communities between 1953 and 1955) experienced water shortages, largely from deficient surface water sources (Hudson and Roberts 1955). A community was identified as having a shortage if restrictions were placed on water usage by local authorities or if the water supply was projected to last less than 6 months. During 1953–55, 8 Illinois communities hauled water, 8 developed supplemental groundwater supplies, 13 laid pipe lines to emergency sources, and 7 built additional reservoirs. It was observed in 1954 that water supply problems were most frequent in areas depending on impounded reservoirs. As a result, Hudson and Roberts (1955) assembled information on the design and appraisal of reservoirs that would be helpful in preventing similar difficulties in the future.
Since that time, short-lived droughts have occurred in Illinois, in 1980–81, 1988–89, 1999–2000, and 2005 (Illinois State Water Survey 2010a). In response to these later droughts and due to the expected population growth, Illinois Executive order 2006–01 directed that state and regional water supply planning be undertaken. As a result the Illinois Water Supply Planning Web site (Illinois State Water Survey 2010b) was developed to provide background information on drought and water supplies in Illinois.
In Kansas in 1955, as a direct result of the droughts in 1952–54 and flooding in 1951, money was allocated for a statewide water study and the Kansas Water Resources Board (KWRB) was established. The KWRB over the next 8 years inventoried the resources and identified water problems and needs in Kansas. Since that time, irrigation has increased substantially in Kansas putting additional strain on water resources. The role of the KWRB [now the Kansas Water Authority (KWA)] has expanded and reports annually to the Kansas Governor and Legislature regarding implementation of the evolving Kansas Water Plan (Kansas Water Authority 2009), through budgetary and legislative recommendations.
In Missouri, statewide participation in matters of community water supplies came much later, in response to the 1988–89 drought (Miller and Hayes 1995). In 1989, the State Water Resources Plan, a provision of the 1989 Water Resource Law, required that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) ensure the quality and quantity of water resources to support present and future uses by developing a long-range comprehensive plan for the use of surface and groundwater that would evolve in time as water needs changed. Up to that time, drought in Missouri was considered largely a rural problem, handled primarily by private citizens, industry, or local governments. The 1995 Drought Response Plan acknowledged that drought could have regional or state implications and established the Drought Assessment Committee (DAC) to coordinate a drought response effort, The DAC, comprised of members of 14 state and federal agencies, was first activated from July 1999 through the summer of 2000 to alleviate problems associated with drought. Precipitation measurements were improved, observations of steamflow and groundwater levels were upgraded to near-real-time collection, reservoir operation modeling was undertaken, studies were initiated to help local communities determine the amount of available drinking water, and lastly the release of emergency conservation reserve lands and alternative water supplies for livestock and agricultural needs were coordinated (Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2002).
The management of energy resources that would be sufficient to endure the stress of increased energy use during a heat wave is a far more complex issue. Energy production and use is dependent on resource availability, the cost and technology required to obtain an energy resource and convert it into electricity, and energy demand among other factors, all of which change over time. The cost and efficiency of energy production also depends upon infrastructure to deliver power. Deriving a uniform energy policy at the state or federal level is challenging. It is clear, however, that electricity usage has increased over time. The use of air conditioners is now quite common, as well as use of other electric appliances such as refrigerators with ice makers, computers and televisions. In 2009, only 10% of new homes (U.S. Census Bureau 2009) and only 14% of all housing units lacked air conditioning (RISMedia 2011). In addition, there has been a general trend toward the use of central rather than window air conditioning, and home sizes have more than doubled so that the amount of space cooled has greatly increased (U.S. Energy Information Administration 2000) While appliances are more energy efficient than in the past, per capita energy usage in the United States increased by about 75% between 1950 and 2000 (Diamond and Moezzi 2004). In Kansas and elsewhere in the Midwest, peak loads are still in the summer months, primarily because of air conditioning (Kansas Energy Council 2009). While energy demand has already increased, summertime peak power demands would further increase during an extensive heat wave. During the heat waves of 1999, power outages occurred in Chicago, but due to an updated and upgraded electrical supply system they did not fail in St. Louis. In response to the 1999 heat wave, however, Chicago initiated legal and legislative action to encourage the upgrade of the electricity delivery system (Palecki et al. 2001).
In 1997, the state of Kansas began to consume more energy than it could produce with the increase in energy demand largely met by coal transported by train from Wyoming and Montana and to a lesser extent from nuclear power. As a result, the Kansas Energy Council (KEC) was formed to determine what would need to be done for Kansas to become energy self-sufficient. Over the next decade the KEC developed policies to extend the life of the state’s oil and gas fields, increase conservation and efficiency, and develop new sources of energy (KEC 2003). Improvements to energy infrastructure and encouraging conservation as proposed in Kansas Energy Council (2009) should reduce the impact of increased air-conditioning usage during heat waves on the electrical supply.
In general, as these states depend primarily on fossil fuels and somewhat on nuclear power, more power is used to generate and distribute power than used in electrical consumption (Kansas Energy Council 2003). Energy conservation, energy efficiency, development of clean coal and carbon sequestration technologies, and efficient commercial and residential building codes are promoted by most states as is the investigation, development and use of renewable energy resources (e.g., Missouri Energy Task Force 2008; Midwestern Governors Association 2009). Legislating state and national energy policies to effectively reduce the use of energy has been more elusive (Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance 2011; U.S. Department of Energy 2011), and the evolution of technologies to replace noncarbon based fuels is slow.
For governmental bodies, infrastructure costs from buckled streets and warped railroad ties were accrued in 1954. However, the most costly governmental interventions were those related to the agricultural community. Great strides have been made in monitoring drought and so some degree in the prediction of drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor Web site (http://drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html), a joint program of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), various agencies within NOAA, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Regional Climate Centers, and the State Climatologists provide a weekly synthesis of many drought indices and drought impacts representing a consensus of federal and academic scientists.
Agricultural practices have greatly improved since the 1950s, as clearly demonstrated in Fig. 7 for corn. Generally, pests and disease are now managed to reduce their impact on corn yields, and other management practices such as tilling methods, planting density, and use of modern hybrids have greatly increased yields. However, stress on plants is largely dependent on weather and the timing of adverse weather in relationship to the growth stage of the plant (e.g., Great Plains Institute 2008; Westcott et al. 2005). While improved forecasting of temperature and precipitation may help optimize what type of hybrids to plant and how densely, a devastating drought such as 1954 will still result in significant agricultural loses. The federal government now has in place an infrastructure to aid the agricultural community. The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides aid to producers of noninsurable crops and offers crop insurance policies as a risk management tool, offers farm ownership and operating loans, and emergency farm loans (Farm Service Agency 2011). The federal government remains the entity that farmers, livestock producers, and states turn to for assistance (U.S. Department of Agriculture 2011).
Possibly the greatest advancement in the past 50 yr has been in monitoring and predicting (at least in the short term) weather and water resources, so that the strategies to cope with excessive heat can be disseminated in a timely fashion, and that water resources can be better managed to help elevated water shortages. In future years in the Midwest, there is some suggestion of higher interannual variability of precipitation (Pryor and Takle 2009), of cooler summer conditions (Pan et al. 2009), and of warmer conditions (Schoof 2009). In the western region of the United States, however, more frequent heat waves are expected. Regardless of the trend in heat wave frequency, from year to year, there will continue to be large variability in both temperature and precipitation. For the summer season in the Midwest, past temperature extremes, as evidenced by the duration and intensity of heat waves and cool periods, provide a good estimate of the range of conditions that could be expected.
The Midwest has not experienced a recent devastating heat wave as occurred in 1954, but recent heat waves in various regions of the Untied States and world have focused the attention of governmental bodies on climate adaptation. To a great extent, information is now readily available regarding adaption strategies to extreme temperatures, and weather conditions are closely monitored to warn the general public and governmental agencies of extreme heat, drought, and flood conditions across the continental United States. Although untested by an event as extreme as the 1954 heat wave, at least three Midwestern states have set up an infrastructure for multiple agencies to monitor their water resources and to react to droughts and floods. Only the recurrence of a 1954-type heat wave, however, will verify how successful these same states are in allocating water resources under a prolonged drought. Comparable real-time monitoring of energy type, supply, demand, and electrical usage is not readily available at least for public use, and energy policies are still evolving on the state and nation level. How well the current energy infrastructure will manage during such extreme heat conditions will vary by location and again is yet to be determined. Further advances in monthly and seasonal prediction of temperature and precipitation could benefit the agriculture community at least in minimizing loses during a drought.
This research was supported by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under Cooperative Agreement NA67RJ0146. The author wishes to thank Stanley Changnon for his inspiration, Kevin Grady for his newspaper research, and David Kristovich, Mike Timlin, and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.