Meteorologist: ‘This Heat Wave Is Child’s Play Compared to 1930s'

Penny Starr | August 15, 2016 | 4:54pm EDT
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Joe Bastardi, chief forecaster at Weather Bell Analytics.

( –  Meteorologist Joe Bastardi says the current heat wave in most parts of the U.S. – which tied the 135-year-old record temperature in Washington, D.C. on Saturday – is “child’s play compared to the 1930s.”

The National Weather Service (NWS) issued an "excessive heat warning" for "a prolonged period of dangerously hot temperatures" for much of the East coast, which remains in effect until 8 pm on Tuesday.

According to the NWS, the temperature at Ronald Reagan International Airport hit 101 degrees on Saturday, tying the old record of 101 degrees set on Aug. 13, 1881.


(National Weather Service)

But if global temperatures are getting warmer because of manmade activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, why was it so hot 135 years ago? asked Bastardi, who is currently the chief forecaster at Weather Bell Analytics and the former chief long-range forecaster at Accuweather.

“There is no question this weekend was hot, with temperatures challenging and breaking records across the northeast,” Bastardi replied. “But to offer some perspective, many of these records went back to the 1800s, which meant [that] even without urban buildup, it was just as hot then.”

Bastardi added that 101 degrees is nothing compared to the heat wave that struck the Washington region back in the 1930s.

Long before SUVs and the term “carbon footprint” were invented, Americans endured sweltering heat waves, such as the summer of 1930, he said.

 “Washington area farmers were certainly not spared in 1930, as intense, prolonged hot spells gripped the region during late July and early August,” according to a 2010 article in the Washington Post. “The official temperature recorded on July 20 was 106°F, which holds the record as the highest temperature ever recorded in Washington.

“Unofficially, 110°F was recorded that same day on Pennsylvania Avenue and 108°F at the National Cathedral,” the article continued. The summer of 1930 also set the record at 11 for number of days where temperatures reached or exceeded 100°F.

“By the end of the summer of 1930, approximately 30 deaths in Washington were blamed on the heat and thousands more had died nationwide,” the Post article said. “In Washington, there has never been another summer with a heat wave that has equaled the summer of 1930.”

“This shows you this heat wave is child’s play compared to the 1930s in D.C.,” Bastardi told

Another deadly heat wave happened in 1896, killing more than 1,500 people.

“One of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history was the 10-day heat wave of 1896, but it is largely forgotten to history,” according to an article archived by the New England Historical Society. “For 10 days starting on August 1, the temperature soared to 90 degrees and higher, while staying above 70 degrees at night.

“Humidity hovered at 90 percent, and here wasn’t a breath of wind,” the article continued. “From Boston to New York to Chicago, more than 1,500 people died from heat prostration or related illnesses.

“More people died in the stifling heat than in the Great Chicago Fire or the New York draft riots,” it said.

Bastardi told CNSNews that the cyclical El Nino ocean pattern, which is linked to a periodic warming of sea surface temperatures, is what's really noteworthy this year.

“What is spectacular this year is the warmth of the ocean off the mid-Atlantic coast and the Chesapeake Bay, which helps out with the overall hot pattern,” Bastardi explained. “The warmer the source regions for what would be some cooling, such as the ocean and the bay, the less influence it has on knocking down high temps.”

In fact, Bastardi pointed out that Weather Bell Analytics predicted back in February that this summer would be a hot one.

“The hottest June-August period nationwide since 2012 is on the way,” the Weather Bell team predicted.

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