Hot town, summer of 1960 in Rochester
The heat became oppressive as pools closed and school opened.
To everything there is a season, but Minnesota weather is not always seasonable.
Witness, for example, the record-breaking heat wave of 1960 that arrived just as kids headed back to school, area high school football teams opened their seasons, and worst of all, local swimming pools closed for the year.
As the calendar turned to September that year, the expected fresh days and cool nights were delayed by a string of 90-degree days that set records and, as the Post-Bulletin noted, reached “the point where nearly everybody starts longing for winter.”
The heat arrived on Wednesday, Aug. 31, which happened to be the first day of school for Rochester pupils. With the temperature reaching 93, the hottest day of the year so far, “the thousands of students, as well as their teachers, are uncomfortable and finding it difficult to concentrate and study in the heat of the classrooms,” the Post-Bulletin reported.
Heading toward the Labor Day weekend, afternoon temperatures continued to hover nearly 20 degrees above the normal high of 76. The nights were made uncomfortable by high humidity.
The oppressive heat was the main topic of talk around town. “Fact is, it is likely to be hotter again today and Saturday.” the Post-Bulletin said on Friday, Sept.2.
The 93 in Rochester that day was the highest in the state, although cooler air was supposed to be on the way.
“Rochester residents can look forward to a good night’s rest as the five-day heat spell will be broken with cool air moving into the vicinity from the northwest tonight,” the newspaper said on Saturday, Sept. 3, the fourth consecutive day of 90-degree temperatures.
But summer wasn’t ready to give up without a fight. On Sunday, Sept. 4, Rochester again hit 92, and once again was the warmest place in the state.
What happened? “The predicted break in the heat spell failed to materialize, the Weather Bureau explained, because cool air did not reach far enough south to end the hot conditions,” the Post-Bulletin said.
Labor Day, Monday Sept. 5, found the city in a state of lethargy. “The heat made it a day of rest for most residents,” the Post-Bulletin said.
Daylight Savings Time ended the next day, but the summertime heat hung around, allowing the city to tie a record, set in 1937, with seven straight days of 90-plus degrees.
Reluctant to heat up their homes anymore by cooking in the kitchen, residents were barbecuing and eating outdoors. Local drive-in restaurants were reported to be jammed with people happy to subsist for now on hamburgers, hot dogs, malts and mugs of cold root beer. Meanwhile, despite the sauna-like classroom conditions, James V. Moon, superintendent of Rochester schools, said it was unlikely that school would be canceled or dismissed early in the afternoon.
And still the heat continued. It was already 90 at noon on Wednesday, Sept. 7 — the eighth consecutive day of 90 or hotter.
But relief was in sight, and this time it did not disappoint. That night, rain and cool Canadian air arrived to break the heat wave and drop temperatures nearly 30 degrees in a matter of hours.
On Sept. 8, Rochester woke up to find the heat wave broken, and this unseasonable headline in the newspaper: “Frost possibility now confronting farmers of area.”
Thomas Weber is a former Post Bulletin reporter who enjoys writing about local history.