WA-List » Record Heat in an Ice Harbor

Record Heat in an Ice Harbor

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Weather

Summer heat waves have rolled through the Pacific Northwest in the past and will certainly return in the coming years.  None so far have matched the roasting that eastern Washington suffered through in the first week of August, 1961.  That long ago heat wave started slowly with three weather stations edging over 100 °F (37.8 °C) on August 1. More than a dozen communities topped that mark the next day and still more simmered August 3.

Then it really turned into a scorcher.  Temperatures all across the east side of the state soared on Friday, August 4.  Many stations set local records that still stand more than 50 years later.  Ephrata was the hottest at 115 °F, followed by Walla Walla at 114 °F, and both La Crosse and Lind at 113 °F.  Friday was the peak heat for most areas, followed by a cooling trend for the weekend.  Walla Walla dropped 25 degrees for Saturday.

But stagnant air settled in the Lower Columbia Basin bringing still higher temps on Saturday, August 5.  It was on that day Ice Harbor Dam established the all time record high temperature for the state of Washington. Newly anchored in the Snake River a few miles east of the Columbia confluence — and not even operating yet — the dam’s weather instruments peaked at 118 °F (47.8 °C) — a full ten degrees Fahrenheit warmer than its Friday temperature.  Nearby Richland suffered at 113 °F.  Dayton, to the east, wilted at 114 °F.

These were daytime temperatures, of course, but many of these communities didn’t get an overnight respite from the heat during the week. Odessa registered an overnight low of 81 °F; Priest Rapids Dam 8 °F0; Ephrate, Richland, and Ice Harbor 79 °F.

There was a merciful cooling for everyone by Sunday, though. With a few exceptions (e.g., Priest Rapids at 94 °F) eastern Washington dropped back to the 80s. Another 100+ heat wave struck a few weeks later, but temps were nowhere as high as they were August 5 and 6.

Below are the daily highs (and the 3-day peak temperature) reported at selected eastern Washington weather stations during the worst of the 1961 heat wave.

WASHINGTON’S ALL-TIME RECORD HEAT WAVE, 1961

-Aug 3- -Aug 4- -Aug 5- 3-day Maximum
Ice Harbor Dam 105 108 118 118 °F
Ephrata 107 115 102 115 °F
Dayton 100 107 114 114 °F
Walla Walla 107 114 89 114 °F
Lind 107 113 112 113 °F
Richland 105 106 113 113 °F
La Crosse 104 113 93 113 °F
Odessa 108 112 110 112 °F
Ritzville 104 106 112 112 °F
Priest Rapids Dam 109 110 98 110 °F
Chewelah 102 104 110 110 °F
Coulee Dam 105 110 97 110 °F
Pullman 102 110 86 110 °F
Northport 106 109 108 109 °F
Pomeroy 101 103 109 109 °F
Kennewick 101 108 108 108 °F
Leavenworth 104 108 102 108 °F
Spokane International Airport 103 108 97 108 °F
Yakima 103 108 88 108 °F
Chief Joseph Dam 92 101 108 108 °F
Rosalia 98 99 107 107 °F
Newport 106 106 105 106 °F
Wilbur 102 106 105 106 °F
Quincy 103 106 na 106 °F
Goldendale 103 106 85 106 °F
Winthrop 102 105 102 105 °F
Waterville 101 104 97 104 °F
Sunnyside 101 103 103 103 °F
Davenport 102 103 102 103 °F
Wenatchee 99 103 102 103 °F
Omak 101 102 91 102 °F
Republic 95 101 102 102 °F
Bickleton 99 102 91 102 °F
Stehekin 101 96 89 101 °F
Chelan 98 99 96 99 °F
Conconully 98 99 90 99 °F

PHOTO: “Thermometer that couldn’t take the heat” by Dave Beedon (Moab, Utah,  2005).  Used by permission. The photo was not taken in Washington — let alone 1961 — but it illustrates well an extremely hot day.

SOURCES: We built this list with data derived from the NOAA’s Online Weather NOWData involving three different Northwest regions. The table design was our invention to best display the raw data.

By the way: During the research we sought contemporary newspaper articles about the heat wave from sources like the Seattle Times, assuming there might be a recap in the August 6, 1961, issue. We found nothing.  It was as if the heat wave wasn’t happening.  Well, of course, it wasn’t happening … in Seattle.  When the temperature topped off at 118 °F at Ice Harbor Dam Aug 5, Seattle was 77 °F and pleasant.  It’s high that week was 88 °F.

Share


Comments are closed.