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Cooked in Kopperl

Written by Jon McConal.

Summertime always brings stories about soaring temperatures in Texas. Residents of Kopperl, a tiny hamlet in northeastern Bosque County, won all boasting rights on June 15, 1960, when the temperature boiled to 140 degrees—and it wasn’t even officially summer yet.

Shortly after midnight, hot, high-speed winds estimated at 80 to 100 mph began to blow, and the thermometer at Charley Riddle’s Bait and Tackle Shop zoomed from 70 degrees to 140 degrees in a matter of minutes. Frightened and overheated, people all over the area sought refuge, some of them in strange places. Charlene Lain’s parents, for example, fled to their pickup.

“When this thing hit,” she says, “they took my little brother, wrapped him in a wet towel, wrapped wet towels around their own heads, and ran to the pickup. They just sat there until it blew over.” (Charlene was away at the time, staying with a friend.)

Other people sought protection in the cellar in Alton Womach’s backyard. “They were packed in there like sardines,” said Kathalene Newman, who was 12 at the time. “Many thought the end of the world had come.”

Farmer and rancher William Herschel Archer, now 82, says he didn’t know what was happening, except that it was burning up his crops. “It burned up 140 acres of my cotton—just cooked the leaves and everything on the plants,” he says.

Years later, Fort Worth meteorologists Harold Taft (see Speaking of Texas, January 2004) and Ron Godbey explained in their book, Texas Weather, what probably had happened. The compression of falling air from a dried-up thunderstorm caused the temperature within a 25-mile radius of Kopperl to shoot up to that unbelievable 140°F, where it remained for four hours.

Though nobody died from the phenomenon, people who experienced it said it was like living in hell.

From the June 2006 issue.

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