heatwave hot thermometer

To compound the heat of July 1930, Sylva also faced a water shortage due to drought.

By Jim Buchanan


July 2020 has been a hot one, with a streak of days routinely bumping up against the 90-degree mark and sometimes sailing right on by.

Thankfully the heat has backed off to some degree.

That wasn’t the case 90 years ago this week, as Jackson County was baking in heat for the record books. 

Reading the front page of the July 31, 1930 Jackson County Journal, it’s striking how heat we experience fairly routinely was hard on “natives of this section.”

In fairness it’s also worth noting that portable air conditioning window units weren’t invented until 1945, so outside of fans there was little relief available for the average Jacksonian short of heading up higher into the mountains (which a lot of people did).

From the July 31, 1930 edition:







The hottest and longest continued weather that has ever visited Western North Carolina within the recollection of the oldest people, still holds on, and most parts of Jackson County are still badly in need of rain.

Day after day the temperature in Sylva has reached up into the nineties, though perhaps a correct reading, taken as official temperatures are taken by the United States Weather Bureau would not have shown above 92.

But that is hot, and very hot, for Sylva.

Natives of this section unaccustomed to warm weather have been feeling the heat more than people from the lowlands.

In Cashiers Valley, Hamburg, Mountain, upper Scotts Creek, upper Caney Fork, Canada, and other higher altitudes in the county, the heat has not been so intense, and Sylva people have been frequent visitors to the Mountain townships during the days that hot weather has reigned.

Throughout lowland South, West, Middle West and East, America has been sweltering, with official readings reaching from 108 in Little Rock to 112 in some of the Missouri towns.

Chickens have died in considerable numbers, especially in Maryland where the poultry industry is of importance. Chickens have no perspiration pores, and when the temperature of the air passes that of 105, which is the temperature of a chicken, the fowls frequently succumb to the heat.

No deaths of fowls have been reported in the mountain country.



To make matters worse, a lot of folks in Sylva couldn’t slake their thirst due to the drought, which was leading to daily water shortages in some spots. From the same front page:





The water supply of the Town of Sylva is beginning to run low, and complaints are coming in to city officials from residents on the highest elevations in town that they are practically out of water each noon.

The city officials are running newspaper advertisements requesting that all the people who use city water be as careful as possible in conserving it.

They ask all outlets be carefully checked by the owners of the property to see that there are no leaks, that all unnecessary use of water be discontinued, that no gardens nor lawn be watered with the city water, and that washing automobiles be discontinued. It is believed that if these requests are followed out, there will be sufficient water in Fisher Creek to care for the town until the drought is broken.

All streams in Western North Carolina are at low levels for the time of the year.

In fact, they haven’t been normal since February, and in the past few weeks there has been little rain to replenish them.



So how hot was it 90 years ago?

At the Cullowhee station, the hottest since record-keeping began in 1909, according to the N.C. Climate Office, the temperature on July 12 hit 99 degrees. 

That was matched on July 28, 1952. Recordings of 98 degrees were notched on July 24, 1914, June 29, 1936 and July 1, 2012.

For the record, the hottest it’s ever been in N.C. was on Aug. 21, 1983 when the mercury soared to 110 degrees in Fayetteville.

We certainly hope that’s a record that is never broken.