The prolonged 1954 Midwestern U.S. Heat wave: Impacts and responses

Nancy E. Westcott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The highest recorded temperature in Illinois, 1178F (47.28C) occurred on 14 July 1954 in East St. Louis. This occurred in the midst of a widespread, long-lasting heat wave covering significant parts of 11 states: from eastern Colorado through Kansas, Oklahoma, part of Texas, Missouri, and Arkansas, southern Illinois, and extending to western Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and parts of the Carolinas. According to historical climate data, this event ranked as one of the top five extended periods of heat in these states since 1895. No such prolonged heat wave has occurred in the Midwest since 1954. It stands to reason that since prolonged widespread heat waves have occurred in the last 100 years, there is a distinct possibility that they will occur again, and reviewing past impacts could help us plan for future events. This research examines the impacts of the heat felt in the Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas region, as well as the responses to the extreme temperatures. Impacts on human health and well-being, water resources, utilities, agriculture, and commerce are described, as well as responses by individuals, communities, and governmental bodies. The extreme heat resulted in many deaths and much discomfort. Sizeable infrastructure repair costs from buckled streets and warped railroad ties were accrued in 1954. Energy and water resources were significantly strained. However, the most costly governmental interventions were those related to the agricultural community. Recent activities in heat wave and drought preparedness that may help alleviate impacts of future heat waves are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-176
Number of pages12
JournalWeather, Climate, and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science


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