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The 1925 Blast Furnace

| September 5, 2007 @ 10:54 am | 13 Replies

I want to nominate 1925 as one of the worst heat waves ever in Alabama–possibly rivaling this year.

This is especially true for one reason.

Virtually no air conditioning, meaning the human suffering was extreme. It was very dry also.

The worst of the 1925 heat was in September outside of our normal hottest months of June, July and August, but the heat started earlier than September.

It was so hot that Alabama’s all-time high of 112 was recorded at Centreville in Bibb County on September 5, 82 years ago today. Birmingham had 106 on the same day.

The 1925 heat cranked up in July, got meaner in August and popped it to us full blast in September. These are some cold hard facts (no, no, wrong word, hot hard facts).

First this observation: when we have 100-degree plus heat in Central Alabama, often our dew point is lower than when we have the more routine highs of 90 to 95. That makes the heat a little more bearable (lower dew point means less humid).

This is a personal index, when it is 95 degrees or higher, I call that very hot instead of regular hot. So, for this particular study we will use a baseline of 95 degrees.

* 36 days had 95 degrees or hotter in the three months July-September, 1925.

* 14 days had 100 degrees or hotter, although not all of them in a row.

* 6 days had 103 or hotter.

* 4 days had 105 or hotter.

* 6 days in a row had 102 or hotter starting on September 3.

* 12 days had 100 or hotter in September alone and 2 in August.

We all know that major heat waves and droughts like each other. They are blood relatives. For example, when Birmingham suffered through the big heat wave of July 1980, not a drop of rain fell during the 8 days in a row with 100 degrees or hotter from the 10th through the 17th. We were on vacation and missed that heat wave. In fact, we were scraping ice every morning while camping out at Duck Creek high in the mountains of South Utah.

* 0.03 is all of the rain that occurred while it was 100 or hotter on 12 days in September 1925.

* 0.04 was the total rain after the heat turned on August 11 in 1925 and for the rest of the month.

MID-1920s DOUBLE WHAMMY
Yep, another blast of heat two years later and it was again in the “off summer” month of September 1927.

* 5 days in September 1927 had 100 or hotter.

* 0.03 was all of the rain that fell that entire month in Birmingham.

NO AIR CONDITIONING
Home air conditioning did not really become widespread until after World War II. It is interesting to note that the first movie theater in the United States to have air conditioning was the new Empire Theater in Montgomery starting in 1917. Don’t you know that people attended movies, even if they hated the movie.

Growing up in West Alabama (in my beloved Havana Junction), we used to go six miles north to Moundville on Saturday because that was our main shopping center–Yellow Front stores, two doctors, a drug store, a movie that charged 10 cents on Saturday and things like that. Saturday was also domino day in Moundville. Farmers would come from miles around and play all day sitting on empty nail kegs under the shade of a sprawling water oak tree in a vacant lot next door to the Hale County News. That is now the Moundville Times, an excellent weekly newspaper.

Anyway, those farmers had great big straw hats and their overalls (absolutely some of the finest people in the world). I could sit for hours and listen to them talk. I got some of my early meteorology training from those guys, because they were always talking weather. One day they were discussing 1925 and I remember them saying that some folks planted a few sprigs of kudzu on the west side of their homes to soften the impact of the blistering afternoon sun. A couple of sprigs would soon cover most of the house. I cannot prove that, but we all know that kudzu has such large leaves that it is almost like an umbrella.

That is the end of my story. We can always debate which heat wave and drought was the worst. I don’t think there is any doubt about our current drought situation being one of the very worst because of its length. I’m not so sure about the heat part.

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