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Busy Telephones


The drought of 1936 came with the most severe heat wave North Dakota had ever seen. Temperatures hit record highs and very little moisture fell in the Dakotas. But when it started to rain the following year, on June 3rd, 1937, it looked like the drought was over.

The weather bureau showed about two tenths of an inch fell around Bismarck on the 3rd. On the 4th, over an inch fell. The clouds seemed centered right over the parts of North Dakota that needed moisture the most, and the rain kept falling.

When the morning of the 5th arrived, bringing another inch of rain with no end in sight, the people of Bismarck started to feel the cabin fever. Rather than braving the storm and getting their feet wet, people used the telephone to call the grocery store and have their shopping delivered. People without cars called for taxis to take them where they needed to go. Bored people called their friends, and telephones rang to cancel appointments and reschedule outdoor gatherings. The weather service received numerous calls from people wondering when the rain would end.

By mid-day on this date in 1937, F. H. Waldo, district manager of the telephone company, had to call in four extra operators to handle all the calls. Even with every operator station filled, the switchboards could barely keep up with calls. The phone company had handled about twenty-six thousand calls the day before the rain started, but on the 5th the phone lines buzzed with nine thousand more calls than usual. Even long-distance calls increased as Bismarck residents turned to the telephone to occupy their rainy Saturday afternoon.

Over two inches of rain fell on the 5th alone. This was the most rain that North Dakota had seen since 1935, when Bismarck had three and a quarter inches fall in a three-day period.

The rain slowed to a drizzle on the morning of the 6th. Over the previous sixty hours, four and one fifth inches of rain fell in Bismarck, more than the average rainfall for the entire month of June. When the sun finally came out, the residents of Bismarck hung up their telephones and started cleaning up the storm damage.

Dakota Datebook written by Derek Dahlsad


"Continuing Rainfall Saturday Indicated the Drouth Has Been Broken in Western North Dakota," Bismarck Tribune, 6/5/1937

"4:19 Inches of Rain Drenches City in 60 Hours," Bismarck Tribune, 6/7/1937 NOAA Website, Bismarck Climate Normals/Extremes, retrieved 5/16/2013