Remembering the heat: Lincoln marks 86 years since record high of 115 degrees

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Eighty-six years ago on Monday, Lincoln had its highest temperature ever, at 115 degrees.

So far this year, Lincoln has only risen above 100 degrees twice. The first time was on June 13, when Lincoln got to 103 degrees, and the second time was Saturday, when the high was 102.

In comparison, in 1936, there were 41 days that year that eclipsed 100 degrees, without widespread technology to relieve the heat.

“There was some air conditioning; it had been invented,” said David Bristow, editor of publications at History Nebraska. “Really you’d only find it probably in movie theaters, would be about the only place you would have it in town. They were great big units, and so it wasn’t yet practical to have it in your home. If you could go to the movies, that might be a good way to stay cool.”

And because it’s summer in Nebraska, heat has been in the forecast for most of the past two months, and August does not appear to be any different.

But it could be worse, experts say.

“We’ve had two days this summer that have reached 100 degrees — two,” said Ken Dewey, professor emeritus of climatology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Two. But in 1936, there were 41 days of above 100-degree temperatures. Without air conditioning. I cannot imagine what it was like.”

Back then, if the house wasn’t cool enough, historians say people would take mattresses to their front porch, or walk to public places with a blanket, with the hope of a breeze.

“Other people, if they didn’t have a good place, would come to the Capitol,” Bristow said. “That was apparently well known as public ground where you could sleep. People who lived here at that time remember that people would start showing up as early as 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon, apparently to get a good spot.”

The temperatures from that stretch were due to a massive heatwave that set up over the center of the U.S., Dewey said. The night after the record hot day, the highest low temperature was also recorded, at 91 degrees.

In our lifetimes, Dewey said these conditions will probably not ever happen again.

“It’s going to be hot, but not record hot,” he said. “Record high temperatures in the month of July, this 115-degree high for today, well there’s a couple days where the high is 112, another day its 111, 110…so the records are way up into the 100s, and we’ve barely cracked the 100-degree mark.”

On Monday, exactly 86 years after the record hot day, we reached a daytime high in the lower 70s, with access to air conditioning for our cars, homes, and workplaces.

Today, the lawn of the Capitol is quiet and damp.

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