Peoples' Weather Map


Fried Fish: Extreme Heat in Carroll County and the Midwest

Carroll county, Iowa

Beck O’Brien


The week of June 10, 1878 was so hot in Carroll County Iowa, you could fry a fish on the dam. In fact, “fish collected on the dam at Grant City in such quantities that the stench was unendurable, and men went out and shoveled them over to float down stream.” Among the dead, eighteen to twenty-pound pickerel were found. Grant City wasn’t the only town affected. In both North Coon and Wall Lake, it was also reported that fish were dying in great quantities. In Wall Lake, people reported not being able to walk near the lakeshore, “the stench is so great.”

According to an account from an experienced fisherman at the time, the great many fishes’ demise could be attributed to the sun’s effect on the creatures. “The fish run around a great deal in hot times and when they get in shoal water they are liable to meet with sun stroke.”

During that week of June 10th, temperatures ranged from 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, and from 115 to 121 Fahrenheit in the sun. Moonlight was not much cooler. “The nights have been so sultry that refreshing sleep has been impossible,” one historian wrote.

Less than seven months prior to June 1878’s sweltering days and restless nights, December 1877 also had remarkable highs. Most days the thermometer “ranged well up to sixty degrees.” A historian wrote of the temperate weather, “Showers were both heavy and frequent, and the weather would have done very comfortably for the latter part of April. Buds started, flowers sprung up anew from the roots and a general spring-like appearance of things was the result. The frost was all out of the ground before the middle of the month and farmers succeeded in doing considerable plowing.”

A Carroll County teenager who celebrated her 17th birthday the summer of 1878 might have celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday during the North American heat wave of 1936. Drought, dust storms, and the Great Depression were all battering the Midwest when this heat wave hit, following an unusually cold winter. Temperatures in some areas went over the 120-degree mark. In the Midwest, grasshoppers fried in the sky and fell upon the land.

Another Midwestern heat wave claimed the lives of about 700 Chicagoans in 1995 in five days, beginning July 13th. The heat caused Chicago’s infrastructure to falter, according to historian Jennie Cohan, who wrote: “excessive air conditioner use maxed out the power grid; relief seekers opened so many hydrants that several communities lost water pressure; and train rails and roads buckled, causing massive commuter delays. Paramedics, hospitals and morgues were quickly overwhelmed, and midway through the heat wave there was a backlog of hundreds of bodies.” In the Midwest, heat waves have continued into the 21st century. In 2018, Iowa kicked-off the summer with a record-breaking heat wave during Memorial Day weekend. In central and northwest Iowa, heat advisories were issued for Sunday, May 27th. In Carroll County, the town of Carroll reached 100 degrees, just one degree lower than the state’s highest temperature of the weekend, which was measured in Sioux City at 101 degrees.

Sources: Iowa State Historical Society: Paul Maclean, History of Carroll County Iowa, Volume 1 (The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, Chicago: 1912); Jennie Cohen, “Heat Waves Throughout History” June 25, 2013, Web; O. Kay Henderson, “Triple-digit temps in NW Iowa, early season heat wave continues” Radio Iowa, Web