Severe Weather

The Heat Wave of July 1966

by Michael R. Allen

While I am inclined to believe that recent weather in St. Louis is related to global warming, I also take small comfort in the fact that it is nothing new for St. Louis. In fact, things were a lot worse forty years ago during the heat wave of 1966. In July, a three-week heat wave started that claimed 69 lives and saw frequent power outages. On July 14, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported that the day was the fifth consecutive day of over-100-degree temperatures, a state terrifying to a region where 200,000 had not had electricity in two days. On July 11, when air conditioners were tapping out available electricity in the area, Union Electric Company (now AmerenUE) started selectively choosing areas for two-hour black-outs to avert a general blackout. The next day, though, a general outage began that took several days to reverse and cost lives.

Thousands of people slept in the city’s parks for weeks on end, and many businesses were effectively shut down. Even then, the news reported that some families who sought air conditioning in their cars were thwarted because their cars were parked inside of garages that could only be opened with electric openers.

At an August meeting on the Missouri Public Service Commission that investigated the utility company’s performance during the heat wave, Union Electric President Charles Dougherty admitted that the power crisis was caused by the inability to complete the new Portage Des Sioux power plant before the summer. Dougherty blamed the contractors who were building the plant for the delay in completion.