The heat wave of the summer of 1980

Larry Wood


Last year about this time, I wrote about the summer of 1954 as the hottest summer on record in the Ozarks. During that summer, Joplin recorded thirty-nine days on which the temperature topped out above 100, including twelve straight days in July. The official weather stations at Joplin, Springfield, and Rolla each recorded its highest temperature on record during that summer. Even this summer, when the local weatherman gives the highest temperature on record for a certain date, I notice that 1954 still often pops up for the particular date in question. I was only seven years old during the summer of 1954, but I remember the heat of that summer fairly well. Not that heat bothered me as a kid the way it bothers me today as an old man, but I think anything out of the ordinary, be it a weather phenomenon or the circus coming to town, makes a bigger impression on young people that it does on older people.

However, I also recognize that we’ve had some pretty hot summers in the Ozarks since I’ve been an adult. One that stands out in my memory is the summer of 1980. The heat wave was not quite as extreme as in 1954. For instance, the high temperature in Springfield in 1980 occurred on July 30 with a reading of 105 degrees. By comparison, the summer of 1954 had several days when the temperature soared above 110. However, 1980 was probably worse in terms of how long the unusual heat lasted. The heat wave started about June 22 and did not abate until September 17. The fact that the heat wave extended well into September several weeks after school had started is the part I remember most vividly about the summer of 1980. I was teaching school at the time, and the school did not have air conditioning. The mornings weren’t bad, but afternoon classes were torturous for both teachers and students as temperatures approached or passed 100 degrees day after day. It was hard to get much school taught after about one o’clock in the afternoon.

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