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Oklahoma Memories

Harry Walhgren Remembers Hottest Summer


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"The '34 and'36 were the very hot dry drought years and that brought forth one of the best stories that I ever had."

That's Harry Walhgren, the chief meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Bureau in Oklahoma City from 1911 to the mid-1940s. From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

This summer Oklahoma has experienced the hottest climatological summer on record since records were begun in 1895. Going into this year, Oklahoma held the top three slots for the hottest summer on record in the United States,the summer of 1934 and the summer of 1936. Those were the summers Harry was referring to.

In the 1930s, the Weather Bureau, as it was called back then, had more than 100 reporting stations statewide, one in every county and many others located in other parts of the counties.That long hot dry summer of 1936, Harry had driven to one of the stations in eastern Oklahoma.

"We had 100 or more stations; we had stations in every county, a cooperative, and I had a sun prostration just east of Fort Smith and was overcome. They took me to a little drugstore, and luckily the assistant health officer of the State of Oklahoma had a drugstore there, took care of me, used bottled water from Fort Smith because they didn't have any."

Following his treatment for heat prostration, Harry returned to Oklahoma City.

"I told my wife when they were bringing me home that night I was glad that that didn't happen in some place except Podunk because it'd been the papers."

What Harry didn't know was the Daily Oklahoman had already called his wife looking for Harry. She told the editor at the Oklahoman what had happened to Harry in some little podunk town in eastern Oklahoma. A reporter from the Associated Press apparently heard part of that story, and he sent what he heard out on the wire. Harry's father lived in Iowa.

"Next morning a reporter walked into my father's office - he was deputy clerk of the United States Court of [unintelligible] and said 'how's Harry?' He said 'he's fine last we heard from him.' He said 'he got over his heat prostration?' My father said 'what prostration?' 'well,' he said 'haven't you seen the Chicago Tribune?' They had a correspondent in this little town, a very small town, in Oklahoma; she sent it to the Associated Press, and that story went all over the country."

Thus, it was reported around the country that Harry Wahlgren, the U.S. Weather Bureau weatherman for the state of Oklahoma, had suffered from heat prostration in the town of Podunk, Oklahoma.

That same summer, the official log book at the Weather Bureau office in Oklahoma City had an entry reporting that Harry Walhgrenhad had to leave work early to go home suffering from heat sickness.

Harry's career included a number of firsts. He first began reporting the weather on WKY Radio in 1940. By the late 1940s he had moved to St. Louis where he was the full-time weatherman for one of the popular stations there, and he was a founding member of the American Meteorological Society.

The heat Oklahoma has experienced this summer is record breaking, and someday we will talk about the summer of 2011 as Harry talked about the summers of 1934 and 1936.

After working and living in St. Louis for several years, Harry and his wife returned to the city they loved, Oklahoma City. He met herhere in Oklahoma City shortly after moving here in 1911. She had grown up on a farm at what is today NW 10th and Villa.

The interview with Harry Walhgren is part of the oral history collection at the Oklahoma History Center, NE 23rdStreet just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.