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Wise As It Was: Cruel summer – 1980 remembered for unrelenting heat, drought

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, July 21, 2018
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Finding Humor in Heat

FINDING HUMOR IN THE HEAT – An anonymous person spray painted a question mark on the Lake Bridgeport sign in the hot, dry summer of 1980. Archive photo

Living in North Texas, you expect summers to be hot and several days where you feel like you may melt into the pavement walking between the parking lot to the office.

With temperatures north of 105, this week is an unpleasant example of the worst.

But when talking about summer heat, the conversation for anyone who grew up in the region quickly drifts to the infamous, record-breaking heat wave of 1980. While its record for the most 100-degree days was surpassed by the nearly equally unrelenting summer of 2011, 1980 still stands with distinction for its length and just how hot it was.

Drying Up

DRYING UP – After 42 straight days of 100-degree temperatures and less than an inch of rain throughout the summer of 1980, Lake Bridgeport dropped 34 feet below normal. Archive photo

For 42 days between June 23 and Aug. 3, the high temperature stayed above 100. In all, the temperature hit 100 69 times over the summer, including the Dallas-Fort Worth record of 113 on June 27 at DFW International Airport, the official weather station for the region.

Wise County felt the heat that summer the same as the rest of North Texas.

In her Newark news column for July 3, Frances Bailey noted: “Although the National Weather Service reported 114-degree temperatures for three straight days, our porch thermometer said it reached 118 degrees. Area gardens (and gardeners) are suffering and it’s a shame to lose so many nice tomatoes and peas.”

Tomatoes and peas were not the only casualties from the heat as Wise County residents struggled to keep their cool.

An unpopular suggestion from Texas Power and Light Co. in the June 26 issue of the Messenger advised residents to “sweat it out” to keep electric bills down.

“Keeping the thermostat turned down and being a little bit on the verge of uncomfortable is probably the best,” said Mike Murphy of TP&L.

But Wise County and the other TP&L customers didn’t take too well to the suggestion from the onset of the heat wave. On June 18 when the high hit 103, the TP&L system hit a record of 5,045,000 kilowatts.”

“The increase in consumption of electricity by our customers is caused by air conditioners to combat the higher temperatures,” said Larry Morrow, Decatur district manager. “This naturally will increase the use of electricity and mean higher bills.

“In weather like this, we tend to forget about conservation and just want to stay cool.”

Along with consumption of electricity, the county was burning through water to try to salvage lawns.

Decatur residents used a record of 30.919 million gallons of water in June. City Secretary Sam Renshaw said a record 1.789 million gallons were used June 28.

The record lasted a month. Decatur residents used 37.654 gallons in July. Bridgeport used 34.772 million gallons that same month.

Water was not only consumed for lawns but to also battle a seemlessly never-ending string of fires. In the week leading up to July 4, Newark Mayor M.L. “Red” Bounds said the town used 500,000 gallons of water in the past few days fighting fires in the area.

The fires were a result of the heat and ongoing drought.

In June, July and August, Wise County Judge and local weather watcher Charles Wilhite recorded just 0.96 of an inch of rain.

Under the headline, “Couldn’t be drier!” Wilhite reported no measurable rainfall for August.

By August in the middle of a three-year drought, Lake Bridgeport was 34 feet below its normal conservation level. In July, someone took notice of the depleted lake, painting a question mark on a sign for Lake Bridgeport.

Eventually, the heat wave ended in September along with the drought in a big way. In a four-day span in the last week of September, 8.88 inches of rain fell at Wilhite’s home. Cecil Brooks in Chico measured 10.2 inches.

The rain caused a few issues in Runaway Bay with broken power lines, but City Secretary Retta Grundy expressed a sentiment of most Wise County residents at the time: “It’s just encouraging to see that it can rain again.”

As most who lived through the summer of 1980 will say, let’s not have another like it.

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