The Hottest Temperature Ever?

August 7, 2008 at 7:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We have had a real run of hot weather recently.  Already this summer, we have hit 100 or above 27 times.  If (when?) we get to 36 days, that will push 2008 into the Top Ten summers with the most 100 degree days.  And that will probably happen in the next week or two.

But the hottest temperature we have seen this summer is 107.  And that is nothing compared to what happened here in north Texas almost 50 years ago, on 15 June 1960.

That night was typical summer weather, clear and warm, with a glimmer of lightning on the horizon.  But in the small town of Kopperl, near Lake Whitney, that was about to change in a hurry.  The following account is excerpted from Texas Weather, a book written by NBC5 meteorologists Harold Taft and Ron Godbey in 1975.

“Then without warning… it struck.  A searing blowtorch-like wind hit with speeds estimated at 80 to 100 mph, and the temperature jumped from near 70 to 140 degrees!

The Mooney Village Store lost the roof and was badly damaged… The strong winds smashed down a huge tree at the home of Mrs. Vergie Moon, near the damaged store.  She said it took three people to keep the wind from blowing down her front door…

The heat and searing wind were stifling.  Mothers wrapped their crying babies in wet sheets and towels to protect them from the intense heat.  Fire sprinkler systems were set off, car radiators boiled over and panic-stricken women were crying, thinking the end of the world had come.

The cotton field of rancher Pete Burns was scorched by the hot wind.  The wind and the heat carbonized it, leaving only a few burnt stalks standing.  Corn fields in the area, green when the sun went down Tuesday, were scorched and wilted at sunup Wednesday.

No one knows for sure how hot it was, but the thermometer outside the Charley Riddle Bait and Tackle Shop in Kopperl, jumped from near 70 degrees about midnight to 100 degrees in just a few minutes, and the highest was 140 degrees.

The event would have gone undocumented except for veteran cameraman Floyd Bright who, hearing the incident the next morning, recorded it on film… Except for the film story on file at the television station in Fort Worth, there is no other record of this most unusual Texas storm.”

So what happened that night?  Evidently it was a rare event called a Heat Burst.  All thunderstorms have areas of updrafts and downdrafts.  Generally, downdrafts are cool, but that’s because of the rain evaporating in the downdraft as it descends.  Occasionally, downdrafts will continue for a while even after the rain ends.  In those cases, the descending air is compressed as it moves down into areas of higher pressure nearer the earth’s surface.  And just as compression causes a bicycle pump to heat up, the compression of this descending column of air also causes a rise in temperature.  Typically this causes a rise of 10 or 15 degrees, which I have seen happen several times in the 32+ years I have worked at NBC5. 

But that June night in Kopperl, an amazing thing happened.  Here is how Harold Taft described it in his book:

“It may be that the downward thrust of air continued even after the rain ended.  In so doing, it would heat at the rate of 5.5 degrees F for every 1000 feet of fall… The bases of the thunderstorms that nightwere 8,000 to 10,000 feet above the ground.  If theair temperature in the dissipating cloud at a height of 20,000 feet was 20 to 25 degrees F, then the falling air would be heated by compression another 110 degrees by the time it reached the ground and this, added to the initial temperature, would be close to the 140 degrees observed on the thermometer at the bait shop.”

Here are some links with more information on heat bursts:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_burst

http://www.storm2k.org/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=101399

And here is a link to a local newspaper story about the event in Kopperl:

http://www.city-data.com/forum/texas/362373-summer-heat-1980-a-4.html

By the way, the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in North America is 134 degrees, in Death Valley California.  And the world record is 136 degrees in the Sahara Desert of Libya.  If there had been an official recording thermometer in Kopperl that night, we would have a new world record to talk about, set right here in North Texas.

Chiel Meteorologist David Finfrock

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