The sweat is running down your brow and your head feels like it’s on fire.
In fact, the temperature on Tuesday tied the heat record for Winnipeg of 34.4°C set on July 19, 1967, and the humidex reading for last Tuesday was a heatstroke inducing 47°C.
It was so hot over the last week that the provincial government issued a heat advisory on July 15, reminding Manitobans to take precautions to prevent heat-related illnesses.
“Prolonged exposure to heat can lead to a variety of symptoms including headache, nausea, weakness, dizziness, fainting, confusion, rapid breathing and dehydration,” warned the office of the Chief Provincial Health Officer.
The best advice offered was to keep hydrated — drink plenty of water — and to move to the shade if any of these symptoms occurred. In extreme cases, emergency medical care would be required.
Some have escaped the heat by fleeing to Manitoba’s lakeside communities, where soothing water is a balm to the ravages of the merciless sun, while many Winnipeg children have been seeking relief in the city’s wading pools.
But if anyone thinks it was hot in southern Manitoba, consider the case of Knoxville, Iowa. which reached a stifling heat index — similar to our humidex — of 131°F (55°C) last Monday. The heat was blamed for 22 deaths in Kansas and Iowa, as well as numerous cases of hospitalization for heat-related illnesses.
The Iowa department of transportation warned of “pavement blowups,” which are caused when thermal expansion forces the pavement to buckle and shatter, a recipe for potential accidents to the unwary driver.
It’s been hot all right, but it wasn’t as hot nor as deadly as what occurred in July 1936. The deadliest heat wave in Ontario and southern Manitoba history struck from July 5 to 17, 1936. Temperatures at times exceeded 40°C and claimed 1,180 lives — mostly the elderly and infants. Four hundred of the deaths were from drowning as people sought relief in the water from heat that was so intense it twisted steel railway lines and bridge girders, buckled sidewalks, wilted crops and baked fruit hanging from trees.
“Seventeen persons died and 21 persons were sent to hospitals, in the Winnipeg district,” announced the July 13, 1936 Winnipeg Free Press, “Saturday and Sunday, the result of heat prostration, in the worst temperature toll in the hottest week-end in Winnipeg history.”
According to the newspaper, the temperature reached 108°F (42.2°C) by 2 p.m. on Saturday, establishing an all-time record for the city that still stands today. Sunday’s temperature wasn’t much of a relief, despite dropping by four degrees to 104°F (40°C). What also has to be considered is that there was no measurement for a humidex at the time. At just over 42 degrees, the July 11, 1936, temperature alone was nearly as great as the 47°C humidex reading last Tuesday in Winnipeg. Taking this into consideration, it’s little wonder that the heat generated on that day in 1936 was so deadly to Manitobans.
“Never in all history has there been such a hot day in Winnipeg as Saturday,” continued the 1936 Free Press article. “Indication of the torrid hours ahead came early in the morning as a southwest breeze seemed to carry on its wings hotter and hotter temperatures. At noon the wind was like a stifling draft from an open furnace ...”
In the days before widespread use of air conditioning, there was little city dwellers could do to escape the heat.
“Nearly as hard hit by the terrific temperature as the humans were the animals. Nearly 30 horses died in Winnipeg ... Harry Clifford, Winnipeg Humane Society inspector, alone attended seven calls to stricken horses (at the time, horses were still used to pull delivery wagons in Winnipeg) on city streets, Saturday. Five of these died. In addition, other calls were: dogs, 10, cats, two.”
In the days leading to the record-breaking temperature of 42.2°C, from July 5 to 10, the temperatures recorded in Winnipeg were in order: 98°F (36.6°C), 97°F (36.1°C), 106°F (41.1°C), 92°F (33.3°C), 94°F (34.4°C), and 99°F (37.2°C).
The Friday temperature of 37.2°C was blamed for five people in the city needing hospitalization with two in serious condition. One of the most serious cases was a 50-year-old man striken by the blazing sun while working in a sewer excavation project at Magnus Avenue and McPhillips Street. As is the case with the present heat wave, outside workers have to take precautions to prevent heatstroke.
The heat wave triggered a massive drought across the prairies, compounding the effects of the Great Depression’s faltering economy. Prairie farmers literally lost their farms as dry topsoil was blown away.
In it’s weekly grain report, the Canadian Bank of Commerce said a large swath of the prairies, especially along the international border of Saskatchewan, was past recovery from the toll of the drought.
According to the July 18 Free Press crop report: “All-time records for high temperatures on the prairies were shattered and nothing but scattered showers and spotty rainfall have been experienced since June 16. Under these circumstances the western wheat crop, which two weeks ago gave considerable promise, has withered and faded until severe drought conditions prevail over two-thirds of the grain growing sections of the west.” An accompanying map showed the drought stretching from Emerson to the Saskatchewan border in Manitoba.
“Winnipeg’s longest and hottest heat wave tumbled to a brief ending in spray and spume after 5:30 p.m., Monday (July 13), in a storm of whirling wind, driving dust, torrential rain, flashing lightning, and crashing thunder,” reported the July 14 Free Press. The relief from the heat came at a heavy cost as lightning killed one man at Ile des Chenes and others were injured in the storm. The storm caused great fluctuations in the temperature, although the heat returned after the storm passed.
On July 15, there was some respite from the oppressive heat — the high was just 88°F — but that was short lived.
“Over 90-degree temperatures, Friday, on Winnipeg’s 13th day of jungle warmth, added four more names to the roll of heat prostration victims which now totals 43,” reported the July 18 Free Press. “Another Thursday death not previously reported brought the fatalities up to 30.”
Yes, it has been hot, but we can be thankful that it hasn’t been as hot for as long as was the case in July 1936.