A Look Back at the 1980 Heat Wave that Baked Dallas and Fort Worth

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We know it can get hot in Texas, real hot.  But in the DFW metroplex, 1980 is particularly remembered for the oppressive heatwave that struck North Texas, leaving an indelible mark on the memories of those who endured it. This extreme weather phenomenon not only tested the resilience of communities but also had reverberating impacts on the area’s infrastructure and public health. 

(pictured – Dallas in 1980)

1980 – A Pivotal Year 

In 1980, the world witnessed many significant events including the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington on May 18th, which claimed 57 lives and showcased the raw power of nature. 

The year also saw the escalation of the Cold War, highlighted by the Miracle on Ice, where the US Olympic ice hockey team emerged victorious against the Soviet Union in a match fraught with political undertones. This event became a symbolic moment of American resilience during tense international relations.  Which was coupled by the US boycott of the summer Olympics.  

Meanwhile, in Asia, Japan’s ascendancy to the world’s second-largest economy was a hallmark of the 80s with considerable media attention highlighting the country’s economic boom. This period also set the stage for economic shifts toward free-market capitalism, echoing across the decades to follow.  And in Europe, the announcement on November 9 by the East German government that border checkpoints were open led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event that symbolized the thawing of the Cold War and was shared around the world.

The Iran-Iraq war also began, MTV launched, CNN launched, and the venerable Post-It note was introduced.   

But in DFW – it was hot – really really real hot.

The 1980 Heat Wave

In 1980, the state of Texas was significantly marked by extreme meteorological events, particularly in North Texas, including Dallas. The region endured an oppressive heat wave that has since been etched into the collective memory of its residents. Temperatures soared to record-breaking highs, intensifying the severity of a drought that gripped the area.

The National Weather Service documented a series of daily temperature records that year. These included back-to-back days of 113-degree heat on June 26th and 27th. The impact of these conditions was compounded by a lack of significant rainfall.  The summer broke or tied 29 daily records, with 24 of those records enduring for over three decades.  In July, every single day reached triple digits!

Meteorological factors played a significant role in the severity of the 1980 heat wave. A persistent high-pressure area stationed over the region acted like a lid on a pot, trapping hot air and preventing the usual convection processes that could lead to cooling.

Amidst the sweltering temperatures, the residents and infrastructure of Dallas and Fort Worth were put under immense pressure. The city’s response mechanisms to such natural adversities were tested, and the heat wave remains a crucial reference point in DFW’s climatology studies.

Rainfall that summer 1.96 inches, low enough to make it the eighth-driest summer on record. The impact of the drought was felt keenly across the region, exacerbating the sweltering conditions and stressing water supplies. Farmers faced significant losses, and the agricultural impacts were felt economically as well.

The other years that compare to 1980 are 2011 and 2023. For comparison, the average high summer (June to August) temperature in 1980 was 89.2 degrees.  2011 came in at 90.5 degrees and 2023 was 88.7 degrees. 

Stay cool Texas!

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