By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

While we swelter, a look back at the heat wave of April 2002

A hot day on Boston Common. Photo (cc) 2013 via City of Boston archives.

There’s a lot of talk this week to the effect that the heat wave we’re experiencing is unprecedented — or at least unusual — for June. True enough. But I vividly remember a wild stretch of hot weather that hit the Northeast in April 2002. I was in New Jersey and New Haven to interview folks for my first book, “Little People,” and it was over 90 degrees for a day or two that week.

As I was driving through Connecticut, an anchor on NPR said that a new record of more than 90 degrees had been set in Central Park. That night, I met with Anthony Soares, a person with dwarfism who was president of the city council in Hoboken, New Jersey. We sat outside at a restaurant until 11 p.m. in stifling heat and humidity. Here’s how The New York Times put it on April 17, 2002:

After a stubbornly mild winter, a sudden heat wave settled over the New York region yesterday, with the temperature reaching 92 degrees in Central Park at 3:30 p.m. That shattered the previous high for the day of 88, which was reached in 1896.

Elsewhere in the region, records were similarly trounced. In Newark, a high of 90 beat the old record of 82, reached in 1976. And in Bridgeport, it was a full 10 degrees hotter (83 degrees) than on any previous April 16.

In Boston, the temperature on April 17 topped out at 93.2 degrees. Notably, the Boston Marathon had been held just two days earlier, although, fortunately, it didn’t make it out of the 50s that day. And on April 18, it was back in the 50s again.

Climate change is making all of this worse. It was a factor 22 years ago, and it’s even more of one now. I just thought you’d like a reminder that what we’re going through this week is nothing new, and that we’ve had even stranger weather off and on in the past.

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4 Comments

  1. Paul Hutch

    Yeah, having lived in southern New England since 2nd grade without home air conditioning (I’m 65 this year) I always chuckle when people act like 90+ in June is a huge change. We’ve been getting 90’s in June on and off all my life.

    There’s a reason why meteorological summer starts June first, that’s when the hot summer weather starts. We likely won’t even break very many high temperature records.

    Checking the daily reports from Blue Hill I see these records for June:
    JUNE 14, HIGH 93F IN 1956
    JUNE 15, HIGH 94F IN 1988
    JUNE 16, HIGH 92F IN 1891
    JUNE 17, HIGH 93F IN 1894
    JUNE 18, HIGH 93F IN 1929, 1994
    https://bluehill.org/climate-weather/

    Of course highs/lows are weather not climate. From a climatological perspective the average temperature is likely much higher than is good for our world. For spring (Mar, Apr, May) tied for the 10th highest average but all 11 entries are after 1945 and the last 4 years are all in the top ten.
    https://bluehill.org/spring-2024-summary-tenth-warmest-and-fifth-wettest-on-record/

  2. Agreed, Paul. I’m always laughing at my kids when they start getting testy about needing air conditioning in June. I tell them every year: They get installed in July and 6 to 8 weeks later, they get put away. The electric bill is just too high.

    They will never have to spend summers like I did, in the late 1970s and early 1980s in south Florida, on a boat, with nothing but a table top fan. They will also not have the adventures I had, too.

    Dan: I appreciate the email system you set up which is much more conducive to getting updates then trying to remember to visit the site or being distracted by LinkedIn updates.

  3. David F. Pierre, Jr.

    The Boston Globe, July 5, 1911, front page: “Third Day of Record Heat Kills 37 In New England” “Mercury at 106 In Boston” “Hundreds Prostrated” “Death List of 26 In New York” “Hospitals Full and the Ambulances On Move”

    The Boston Globe, July 11, 1911, front page: “New England Heat Kills 40, Hundreds Prostrated” (Brockton, 103 degrees)

    The Boston Globe, June 30, 1933, front page: “One Dead, 10 Stricken By Heat In N.E. Area” “Boston Is Hottest Spot in East With Mercury at 99”

    The Boston Globe, July 9, 1937, front page: “Record Heat Claims 24 Lives” “… All N.E. Swelters In Torrid Wave” (“With the temperature close to the 90’s at midnight …”)

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