Archive for Monday, January 13, 2014

Last week’s ‘polar vortex’ still better than record lows

January 13, 2014

If you thought it was cold last week when the thermometer dipped below zero you should been around in February, 1905, when we really had bone-chilling weather. That’s when the record was set for the all-time coldest temperature in Kansas – 40 degrees below zero – on Feb. 13 in Lebanon.

That must have been one of the coldest days in Midwestern history. On that same date in 1905 the coldest reading ever in Missouri, again 40 degrees below zero in Warsaw, Mo. Of course, that is no way near the coldest reading in the United States, which was 80 degrees below zero in Alaska on Jan. 23, 1971.

In addition, there have been many low readings in the in the minus 60 degree range in northern states. The lowest temperature ever recorded in Hawaii was a “chilling” 12 degrees above zero in Mauna Keo on May 18, 1979. There have been winters when Kansans would have been overjoyed to see 12 above zero.

The more I thought about it, I had to wonder how Bonner Springs, Basehor and Edwardsville residents survived that icy, chilling February of 1905. If you remember those were the days when most heating was by burning a coal fire in a pot-bellied stove which had no thermostat. When I was very young we had such a stove which kept one area of the house warm and the further you got away from the stove the colder the temperatures. It is little wonder that natural gas central heating became popular.

Another problem was the supply of coal. A strike by miners had cut the supply of coal and the arrival of a shipment of coal at a lumber yard or hardware store was big news. Coal was also used for cooking. After the coal was burned, there was the problem of taking out the ashes.

There were some unlucky folks in 1905 that didn’t have much money and wood was burned. When I was a bit younger I enjoyed going to the wooded area behind our house and cutting wood. Of course it was with a chain saw and I only cut enough for an occasional fire. I cannot imagine cutting enough wood to heat the house and for cooking.

Home heating and cooking weren’t he only challenges those hardly souls of a 110 years ago faced. The real challenge was going to the toilet which wasn’t a walk down the hall. No, it was braving the elements to go to a little “unmentionable” building usually located near the back of the property. I think one of the greatest accomplishments in the 20th century was modern sewer systems and the demise of the outhouse.

On that 1905 record-cold day, The Chieftain had a number of stories about the frigid weather. Apparently the coldest temperature recorded that day was 28 degrees below zero at the power plant. However, there were individuals who reported colder temperatures. Herman Kuhn said in the Feb. 17 issue that his thermometer reached minus 40 at his home. In my long life, I have never seen that kind of cold weather in Kansas.

There were no reports of business or school closings. Apparently there was a terrific economic impact through the entire region. There was no mention of deaths due to the bitter weather.

Kansas is well known for its temperature extremes. The all-time high was 121 degrees on July 24, 1936. If you do the math, Kansas temperatures between the all-time high and low is 161 degrees.

I really don’t want to see either again and I will take a lovely 80-degree day any time.

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