Heat wave: Midwest plain ‘out of whack’ as records shatter


It’s not that the Midwest hasn’t been extremely hot before, and it’s not that it hasn’t been incredibly dry.

But it’s unusual for a vast swath of the Midwest to be so very hot and so very dry for so very long -- particularly this early in the summer.

The current heat wave -- which is spurring comparisons to the catastrophic heat of 1936 -- is “out of whack,” meteorologist Jim Keeney said Friday in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

Photos: Midwest heat wave

“Even on the East Coast today, temperatures are 100 or above” -- basically, Keeney said, the heat wave extends from Kansas all the way to the East Coast.

“It’s a good chunk of the eastern half of the country, barring the far northern states, of course. So it’s pretty intense.”

Temperature records are being broken and residents are suffering in what Keeney called a “corridor of extreme heat,” generally through Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and into western Kentucky.

Heat records are being shattered as are records for the number of days in a row the temperature has hit 100 or higher, he said.

Take St. Louis, for example. The last time the city was this hot for this long was in 1936, said Keeney, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Central Region Headquarters in Kansas City, Mo. Then, the city recorded 13 days in a row of temperatures 100 degrees Fahrenheit or over. That devastating heat wave of the mid-’30s killed thousands of people and destroyed many crops.

The culprit in the current wave is a dome of high pressure that has been hovering over the eastern part of the U.S., said NWS spokesman Pat Slattery in an interview with The Times on Friday.

“It’s kicked the jet stream way to north, in some places into Canada, so there’s no way for the normal rotation of weather systems to get here into the middle of the country, which would bring us some moisture. So drought becomes more and more a major factor.”

Gregg Steele, a farmer for 35 years, has acreage in Missouri’s Ray County and has been watching as the heat and drought have damaged his crops.

“It hasn’t been this hot here this long since the ‘30s,” Steele, of Richmond, Mo., said Friday in a phone interview. On Thursday, it was 105 degrees, he said, and it’s been 10 days with no sign of rain.

According to meteorologist Keeney, 56% of the country is experiencing drought conditions. And the timing of the heat wave couldn’t have been much worse. “June, early July, that’s when crops pollinate and mature,” he said. “It’s a critical time for moisture.”

Steele agreed. The heat and drought have continued for so long, he said, that, locally, worry is growing over the water supply for livestock. “Very easily, ponds could be dry by the end of summer.”

With grass dwindling, some livestock producers are starting to feed their animals hay, he said, which normally wouldn’t occur until November or December.

Relief could be on the way. The high pressure system causing the current problem is expected to start to make a move toward the east on Saturday, Keeney said.

That would allow a cold front, which currently is up in Minnesota and the Dakotas, to move southeast, bringing air that’s much cooler -- by 10 to 15 degrees. By Sunday, Keeney said, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa should see temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s, which are typical for this time of year.

As the cold front moves through the Midwest, there will the chance of large hail and damaging winds, but nothing widespread. There’s also no major relief expected from the drought conditions. It may rain, the meteorologist said, but it will be limited.

Steele said he would just continue to cope -- and hope.

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “It’s just a day-to-day thing. They’re talking about a little cooler weather, and we just hope that we get some rain.

Photos: Midwest heat wave


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