Droughts and Heat Waves

Updated September 9, 2022 | Infoplease Staff

The biggest droughts and heat waves since the 1930s

Many states: longest drought of the 20th century. Peak periods were 1930, 1934, 1936, 1939, and 1940. During 1934, dry regions stretched solidly from N.Y. and Pa. across the Great Plains to the Calif. coast. A great “dust bowl“ covered some 50 million acres in the south-central plains during the winter of 1935-1936.
Aug. 31-Sept. 7, Los Angeles: 8-day run of 100°-plus heat left 946 people dead.
July 14-26, New York City: 891 people died in 14-day heat wave.
June-Sept., central and eastern U.S.: an estimated 10,000 people were killed during the summer in a long heat wave and drought. Damages totaled about $20 billion.
worldwide: El Niño caused wildly unusual weather in the U.S. and elsewhere throughout 1983. Drought in the western Pacific region led to disastrous forest fires in Indonesia and Australia. Overall loss to world economy was over $8 billion. Similar event in 1997-1998 resulted in estimated loss of $25-$33 billion.
Summer, central and eastern U.S.: a severe drought and heat wave killed an estimated 5,000-10,000 people, including heat stress-related deaths. Damages reached $40 billion.
July 12-17, Chicago: 739 people died in record heat wave.
Fall 1995-summer 1996, Tex. and Okla.: severe drought in southern plains region caused $4 billion in agricultural losses; no deaths.
Summer, southern U.S.: severe heat and drought spread across Tex. and Okla., all the way to N.C. and S.C, killing at least 200. Estimated damages of $6-$9 billion.
Summer, eastern U.S.: rainfall shortages resulted in worst drought on record for Md., Del., N.J., and R.I. The state of W.Va. was declared a disaster area. 3.81 million acres were consumed by fire as of mid-Aug. Record heat throughout the country resulted in 502 deaths nationwide.
Spring-summer, southern U.S.: severe drought and heat killed an estimated 140 people. Damages were estimated at $4 billion.
May-June, southern India: a monthlong intense heat wave claimed more than 1,500 lives.
Aug., Europe: drought conditions and a heat wave, one of the worst in 150 years, broke temperature records from London to Portugal, fueled forest fires, ruined crops, and caused thousands of deaths. (French fatalities estimated at more than 14,000.)
July 16-25, California: a two-week heat wave killed at least 140 people.
August, southeastern U.S.: more than 50 deaths and innumerable cases of heat-related illneses have been attributed to the excessive heat. Drinking water sources, such as Atlanta's Lake Lanier, have also been severely depleted.
June 4, California: With reservoir levels well below average and the state experiencing its driest spring in 88 years, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger officially declares that California is in a drought and warns of potential rationing. It is the first such declaration in 17 years.
Spring, several states: A national drought began in the spring of 2012 due to the lack of snow the U.S. received during the previous winter. The drought caused 123 deaths and over $40 billion in damages.
May-June, India: A severe heat wave in India killed 2,330 people. Andhra Pradesh, a state on India's southeast coast, was the hardest hit with 42 people having died there within 24 hours. Temperatures hit as high as 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit) in some cities.

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