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Hot Summer


1936 was the most brutal year in the climatological history of North Dakota. Farmers planted seeds with hopes of a good year, but by the end of May, the fields needed rain badly. Then came "the driest June since statewide records began in 1892."

July of 1936 was a disastrous month for crops, for it was the hottest July ever in the history of North Dakota. A heat wave blasted the whole state from July 5th to the 18th. At Linton, 60 miles south of Bismarck, the average high for the whole month was 102.1 degrees Fahrenheit. The daily high was above one-hundred on twenty-one of the thirty-one days.

At Wahpeton, there were 13 days straight over 100, then it cooled off on the 14th day to 98 degrees.

The new all-time high temperature came at Steele, 40 miles east of Bismarck, with a high of 121 degrees on July 6th. The previous official high had been 114 degrees. On that same day, the temperature hit 118 in Jamestown, 119 in New Salem and Fort Yates, and 120 in Wishek.

Humans and wildlife alike suffered in the heat. Birds were affected because worms, one of their basic foods, went deeper into the dry soil, and ponds and creeks dried up. Hundreds of birds flocked to Grand Forks from nearby areas, "many of them weakened by heat and drouth." Folks put out pans of water and bread crumbs to help the poor birds.

July of 1936 was also tough for deer, pheasants and partridges. Even the rattlesnakes of Western North Dakota succumbed to the heat.

It was so hot nationally that some people would try to fry an egg on a sidewalk. In Berthold, a farmer named Walter Troxel heard about the proverbial egg-frying and tried a variation on the theme. On a hot July Saturday when the "pitiless sun and a blistering south wind" brought temperatures to 112 degrees, Troxel broke an egg on the steel fender of his tractor" to cook it. "But the egg refused to fry," wrote a reporter for the Berthold Tribune, "so Walter" decided to wait "for warmer weather - to try again."

Farmers near Berthold found that the sun made the iron seats on machinery like mowers and binders so hot that the driver "could not sit on them without cushions."

Pastures "simply burned up," continued the Berthold Tribune, and the "grain fields withered and wilted and even the Russian thistles curled up," when the south wind blew "like a blast from a furnace."

The Donneybrook Courier newspaper for July 30th reported that wheat "harvest time is here, but there is not much harvesting being done" due to the effects of the heat wave and the extended drought. Farmers could "gather up a little wheat from certain fields or from patches on low ground," but it was a disastrous crop year.

Farmers hoped to never again experience a July like 1936 - the hottest one ever in North Dakota's history.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.


"Some Grain Being Harvested By Local Farmers," Donneybrook Courier, July 30, 1936, p. 1.

"Climatological Data: North Dakota Section, July 1936," U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weather Bureau, vol. XLV, no. 7, Bismarck, N.D., p. 28, for high temperatures.

"Water, Food Shortage in Country Is Forcing Birds to Live in City," Grand Forks Herald, July 16, 1936, p. 5.

"Heat Wave In State Monday Sets Records," Divide County Journal [Crosby, N.D.], July 10, 1936, p. 1.

"All-Time July Heat Records in State Broken," Minot Daily News, July 7, 1936, p. 1.

"Hot South Wind Destroys All Hopes of Crop," Berthold Tribune, July 9, 1936, p. 1.

"All Heat Records Here Broken Again Saturday," Berthold Tribune, July 16, 1936, p. 1.