Jesse Ferrell

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The Texas Heat Burst, Others

September 27, 2006; 1:18 PM

Recently on the WeatherMatrix General Forum, Brillig wrote:

Years ago, I recall reading a book on Texas weather. I think the author might have been Harold Taft, but I'm not positive about it. In any case, there was a story in this book about a night where the temperature reached 147 degrees (if I recall correctly). It doesn't show in any of the record books, because there was no official weather station at the location. However, the thermometer used was subsequently calibrated, as I recall.

The freakish storm happened in the middle of the night. People thought it was the end of the world and wrapped their children in blankets for protection. The crops were ruined (cooked).

There was more to the story than that. But I don't have the book. And that is my main point. Does anyone here recognize the story? Do you have a more accurate citation? Further comments on the incident? I believe a theory to explain the situation was that a downburst from a nearby storm caused the increased heat through increasing pressure.


I have also heard the story, and I can confirm with some web references that it is a valid story (though like many, probably exaggerated). Wikipedia writes (without citation):

In 1960, the town of Lake Whitney, Texas, experienced a heat burst sending the air temperature to 140°F, supposedly causing cotton crops to become desiccated on-the-spot and causing car radiators to boil over.

Chris Burt, author of "Extreme Weather", a comprehensive guide to which I frequently refer, says in the book:

"Just after midnight on the morning of June 15, 1970, a blast of hot wind estimated at 80-100 mph drove the temperature from 70 to 140 on the northwest side of Lake Whitney, northwest of Waco. Cotton fields were reported to have been carbonized, leaving only burnt stalks standing."

Regardless of their veracity, heat bursts do exist and, while rare, have high impacts including unusual rises in temperature and high wind readings. The WeatherGuys have a radar image and Scott's Satellite Blog has satellite shots from a heat burst. A graph of the 1999 Oklahoma heatburst (at right) shows temperatures increasing from 87 to 102 in 25 minutes. Wikipedia explains further:

While this phenomenon is not fully understood, it is thought that they are caused by masses of extremely dry air high in the atmosphere. Like a microburst, the cooler, denser air sinks rapidly towards the surface, but is far dryer and higher up. With no moisture to absorb the latent heat, friction causes the plummeting air mass to heat up greatly. Temperatures in heatbursts have been know to exceed 110°F (43°C).

Chris' book also tells of historical heat bursts in Georgia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Montana and Manitoba. He even quotes press reports from Portugal, Tukey and Iran telling of temperatures as high as 188 F in the shade (which liquefied asphalt!)

All of the above reports exceed the highest temperature recorded on Earth, generally accepted as the Death Valley, California report of 134 F and previously the Libya reading of 136 F. These heat bursts are not counted because (thus far) the worst heat bursts have been localized events, falling in-between local weather stations. Hopefully as organizations like WeatherMatrix encourage users to put up their own weather stations, the networks will one day be crowded enough to catch one of these rare events.

RECENT HEAT BURST EVENTS (DATE/STATE/INCREASE):

7/17/06 MN (+18)
6/21/06 (+20)
5/27/06 IA (+14)
9/17/05 TX (+15)
5/5/04 NE (+8)
4/14/04 NE (+14)
4/28/03 OK (+11)
4/27/03 KS (+11)
6/3/02 TX (+20?)
6/14/99 OK (+14)
3/26/98 SD/MN (+20)
5/22/96 OK (+20)

Comments (2):

Billy Thomas:

I was there and remember it was hard to breathe from the heat that night. The next day it was reported that house paint was blistered and cotton crops were burned.

Posted by Billy Thomas | July 4, 2009 4:52 AM

Mike Posey:

I just read your comments about the 1960 storm in Lake Whittney Texas (actually in Kopprel).

Me and my brother were listening to our transistor radio the night after it happened and we heard about the story. Then years later (1985 I think) I got to talk to Harold Taft about the story (he personaly covered the story). He told me about the burned crops and boiling radiators (the Star Tellegram Newspaper ran pictures and a story). I asked him if his theroy of heating would cover the events and he told me he didn't really put much confidence in his explaination but it was the best he could do.

Posted by Mike Posey | June 25, 2008 10:13 AM

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Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.