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"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge."
Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

The temperature is 115 plus degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius), and people are soaked with sweat. It's the hottest it's ever been since June 26, 1889. You could fry an egg on the sidewalk. Everyone has their air conditioner cranked up, and those not fortunate enough to own one are desperately looking to cool down. Just staying outside for a prolonged period of time can be dangerous. No one wants to move. Everyone is understandably cranky because of the hot weather, but according to the weatherman, there's no sign of things cooling down.

It's the Heat Wave, a common device employed by writers to increase irritability and stress among characters Locked in a Room, in a Hostage Situation, in a Die Hard Plot, or in a climactic Courtroom Battle. In TV episodes and movies in which the entire plot takes place in one day, the Heat Wave will be dubbed The Hottest Day Of The Year. Alternatively, or additionally, the Heat Wave may serve as a symbolic metaphor for the tension or anger that builds up among the characters throughout the story.

Can also serve as a good excuse for people to walk around in swimsuits or soaked to the skin clothing.

See also Big Blackout. Like Snowed In and Rain, Rain, Go Away, an aversion of It's Always Spring. Often a sign that A Storm Is Coming, in fiction as in real life.

Not to be confused with It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. Unless the night was sultry. See also The Boss Hogg.

It's often a Long Hot Summer (media shorthand for the urban riots of the '60s-70s) or The Dog Days of Summer.

Examples of Heat Wave include:

Anime and Manga

  • Ranma One Half: Escaping a Heat Wave kicks off the plot of the 2nd movie. Needless to say It Got Worse and Hilarity Ensues.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion takes place towards the end of a 15 year long heat wave. While this sounds impossible, it's a consequence of Second Impact shifting the planet's axis, eliminating the Antarctic icecap continent and screwing up every weather pattern.
  • Macross 7 does it as well, with the heat wave being caused by the titular spacecraft heading dangerously close to a sun.
  • An early episode of Gintama has an increasingly irate Gintoki searching for a place to get a new electric fan after the one in his house breaks down during a heat wave.

Comic Books

  • The Dark Knight Returns during a heat (and crime) wave. The local anchors seem to think the former excuses the latter. By the end of the first volume, Bruce Wayne is back in the suit and it's pouring rain. (subtle no?)
  • During the Confessor Arc of Astro City, a major heatwave heightens the amount of paranoia and short-fuses that accompanied a Serial Killing, with the narrator Lampshading this trope.
  • Milestone Comics had a quasi-Crisis Crossover called Long Hot Summer, where the stories of its titles converged around the construction of the "Utopia Park" theme park in the middle of the worst part of Dakota City, and the stresses caused during the summer when the park was built culminating in the Blood Syndicate crashing the gates on opening day and unintentionally inciting a massive riot.


  • Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. Racist attitudes collide on The Hottest Day of The Year.
  • Summer of Sam: Old school Italian street toughs beat on their punk rocker ex-friend, The Son of Sam killer commits several murders, and a full blown blackout/riot breaks out, all against the backdrop of the infamous NY summer of 1977.
  • 12 Angry Men. A jury deliberates the fate of a young man accused of murder on The Hottest Day of The Year.
  • Falling Down. A man having a mental breakdown wanders the streets of Los Angeles and, alienated by his experiences, turns to vigilantism on The Hottest Day of The Year.
  • Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino unsuccessfully robs a bank and winds up creating a hostage situation on The Hottest Day of The Year.
  • A Time to Kill. Matthew McConaughey defends a Mississippi black man played by Samuel L. Jackson who has killed his daughter's murderers during a Heat Wave. See any Southern summer courtroom scene, really.
  • Hundstage. Taking place during the titular "dog days", traditional considered the hottest period of the year, this film is about suburban Austrians being unkind, sleazy or downright malevolent to each other.
  • A native informs the military that the titular creature in Predator only appears during the hottest years. The sequel has another one stalk the streets of Los Angeles during a heat wave.
  • Rear Window: At the beginning of the film, the camera lingers on a thermometer showing the temperature as 90 degrees. The same day, one of the characters remarks that trouble seems to be brewing. Sure enough, it is. At the end of the film, the thermometer is shown again--and it reads 70 degrees, showing that things have cooled down in the neighborhood now that the murderer has been caught.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire. You can feel the sweat pouring off Marlon Brando. It's set in The Big Easy of course, where it's like this 9 months of the year.
  • In Ingmar Bergman's The Silence, the tension between the two sisters is emphasized by the high temperatures. The heat prompts Anna to go back home, leaving her sister to die alone.
  • A heatwave is mentioned at the start of Resident Evil: Apocalypse; behind the scenes, the film-makers decided to bring it up as an excuse to get the characters (especially Jill Valentine) in summer clothes, even during the night. Unfortunately for the actors, filming took place in Vancouver, during the winter.
  • The New York heatwave in The Seven Year Itch not only inspires Richard Sherman to contemplate illicit things with The Girl in the upstairs apartment while his wife and kids are escaping the heat in the country, but also leads to the trope naming Marilyn Maneuver.
  • Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog (Nora Inu) has an empathic heat wave going on throughout the movie.
  • Meta example: In Throw Momma from the Train, the writer protagonist spends the entire movie trying to find a synonym for "It was a hot night" as an intro for his new thriller, only to be informed by Momma that the night was "sultry. It's too goddamn sultry in here!" He then attempts to strangle the poor lady.
  • Barton Fink takes place in a heat wave as oppressive as the protagonist's mental state.
  • In the Ealing Comedy Passport to Pimlico, the rebel state of Burgundy is established in central London during an un-British heatwave. When the more traditional London rain returns, so does normality.


  • To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch defends an innocent black man on a brutally hot day, accused of rape on a brutally hot day.
  • The first (and crucial) part of the novel Atonement takes place during a record heat wave, and characters comment at least once on how all this heat will make young people behave recklessly. They do.
  • Red Wind: This Raymond Chandler novella takes place during the Santa Ana winds. The well-known introductory passage is quoted up top.
  • Several books into The Wheel of Time, the Dark One's influence on the world extends to causing a heat wave that covers the entire known world. This leads to a lengthy arc in the 6-8th books in which the characters must put the weather back into order.
  • The Ray Bradbury short story "Touched With Fire" (in the anthology The October Country) has its main characters theorizing about heat and its effects on people: one character asserts that the most murderous temperature is 98 degrees Fahrenheit (cooler than that you can cope with; hotter than that and you don't want to expend energy in violent behavior).
  • In The Great Gatsby, the love triangle between Gatsby, Daisy, and Tom comes to a climax during what is described by all characters present as the hottest day of the year, the temperature obviously representing the high emotions running. This trope is then inverted in the next chapter, in which the now cool weather symbolizes the ending of Gatsby and Daisy's love affair, something he remains in complete denial of until the very end.
  • The murder in Albert Camus's The Stranger takes place in an overwhelmingly hot and bright day; the heat wave assaulting all the senses of the murderer-protagonist.
    • Heat is a recurring theme in The Stranger, it's also brutally hot on the day of Mme. Meursault's funeral. Meursault himself lampshades the trope before his trial when he muses that when it became hot again, he knew something was going to happen.
  • In Alfred Bester's "Fondly Fahrenheit", the main character has a "Three Laws"-Compliant android, except that it will malfunction and kill people in hot weather (over 90 °F). And he keeps on bringing it to hot planets.
  • Cujo by Stephen King involves a woman and her son trapped in a car by a rabid dog. The stifling weather just makes things worse.
  • A frequent device in The Dresden Files. Summer Knight makes the most use of the heat wave motif, feeding into Harry's irritability given his recent defeat and helping to highlight how things are going seriously wrong with the Summer fae.
  • Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix starts with a heat wave, which is possibly supposed to symbolize Harry being irritable because he hasn't been able to get any information about Voldemort and the Dursleys are irritable because there's a drought and they're busy making sure their neighbors don't cheat on the "no water sprinklers" ban. Ironically, the more dangerous part occurs when temperatures drop, because that signifies the entrance of dementors.
    • It may have been a symbolic use, but it's also very literal — in the real world during the middle and late summer of 1995 (when OoTP starts), Great Britain was stuck in a record-breaking heat wave.
  • Crime and Punishment begins on an "exceptionally hot evening early in July".
  • Heat Wave, the first book Richard Castle's first Nikki Heat book takes place in the middle of one in NYC
  • The events recalled by Leo Colston in LP Hartley's The Go-Between take place in the long hot summer of 1900. The temperatures rise as the plot unfolds, but the weather breaks at the climax with a thunderstorm.

Live Action TV

  • An episode of The Twilight Zone featured a catastrophic heat wave caused by the Earth moving closer to the sun. It turns out in the Karmic Twist Ending that it was All Just a Dream, but reality isn't much better: the Earth is moving away from the sun, resulting in the Earth gradually freezing.
  • The above mentioned story by Ray Bradbury was adapted into an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.
  • Black Books: All three main characters go insane during a heatwave. Fran can't sleep, partly due to the heat and partly because her landlord has moved her wall, shrinking her flat. Bernard is stalking Fran's new neighbour and trying to make her his summer girlfriend. If Manny's temperature exceeds 88 degrees it will trigger "Dave's Syndrome" and, naturally, Bernard does everything he can to set Manny off: insisting he wear a winter jacket, a hot water bottle and "Heat B Gone Booties", storing books in the oven.
  • In Victorious one of these days prompts the characters to go to the beach. Instead of being a Beach Episode however, they get stuck in an RV (except for The Ditz who spends the episode flirting with guys and oblivious to her friends' calls and texts). Hilarity Ensues as they try to keep cool.
  • In Prison Break Michael sabotages the air conditioning during a heat wave. This works out exactly as planned, i.e. triggers a prison riot.


  • Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has one of its most pivotal scenes, where Tybalt kills Mercutio and Romeo kills Tybalt in vengeance, happen during an unusually hot day, setting the stage for the tragedy to come.
  • Street Scene takes place over two brutally hot days in June. Many characters complain about the weather, though the ice cream vendors seem to be doing good business. The first song in the musical adaptation is "Ain't It Awful, The Heat?"
  • 1776 takes place during what really was an especially hot summer, which didn't do much for the Congressional delegates' tempers. The characters comment on it in more than one musical number.
    • "Sit Down, John":

It's 90 degrees,
Have mercy, John, please,
It's hot as hell
In Philadel-

    • "The Egg":

God knows the temperature's hot enough
To hatch a stone, let alone an egg.

  • And, of course, Kiss Me Kate has the song "Too Darn Hot."
  • Inherit the Wind takes place during the Hottest Week of the Year. (Which the Scopes Trial, on which the plot is based, did too.) The characters frequently comment on how hot it is, and there's a small running gag of church-sponsored fans. Drummond doesn't get one.
  • The Irving Berlin song "Heat Wave," originally written for Ethel Waters but later featured in more than one movie musical, including, ironically, White Christmas.
  • The Tony-award winning musical In the Heights is set during a heat wave in New York.

Western Animation

  • The Hey Arnold! episode "Heat," in which a heat wave caused the neighborhood children to rebel against a megalomaniac ice cream salesman.
  • The Simpsons
    • When Homer gets Lisa a sax instead of an air conditioner. Twice.
    • Occurred in another episode when the whole Springfield cranked up the air conditioners during the heatwave and one more electric output will cause a blackout. Unfortunately, it was Homer's fault for plugging in the dancing Santa Claus.
    • And again in the episode when the family decides to get an above-ground pool, leading Lisa to become popular and Bart to live out a Rear Window spoof with a broken leg.
  • Futurama where global warming and lack of ice on a nearby comet combine to make a heat wave.
  • One episode of The Boondocks featured a memorable pastiche of Do the Right Thing, also set on The Hottest Day Of The Year... in February. Huey is the only one who remembers that it's actually winter, and is wearing a thick coat throughout the episde.
  • This occurred in a Danny Phantom episode. Naturally, the emotional Danny has a mean case of the frownies because of it. Mayor Vlad solves the problem by forcing a weather ghost to cool the temperature, but as always, all hell breaks loose when he creates violent storms afterwards. It takes Danny's emotions (and a machine to enhance it) to actually win this battle.
  • 1973-74 Superfriends. One episode ("Too Hot To Handle") had a worldwide heat wave caused by alien interference. They used a satellite to draw the Earth closer to the Sun so it would be xenoformed to make it hotter and thus more comfortable for them when they arrived.
  • The 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode "Burne's Blues" becomes this with someone destroying the air conditioners. Also in "Too Hot to Handle" but this time caused by Vernon's nephew's solar magnet.
  • Despite the fact that they live in HELL, Jimmy Two-Shoes has an episode based on this. Lucious prancing around Miseryville with tempting (but-can't-have) ice cream.
  • The pilot episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy involved the culdesac suffering one of these, they solve their initial problem by stuffing themselves into Ed's freezer, but when Sarah kicks them out they find a new source of refreshment by bombing the neighborhood pool party... and wind up trapped in a pool with no trunks until night comes in and they start freezing.

Real Life

  • Summer heat is frequently cited as a contributing factor to urban riots. The disturbances in Watts (1965) and Newark and Detroit (1967) all took place during periods of higher-than-normal temperatures in those cities. One study showed that incidence of mental disorders with violent presentations increased when the temperature rose above 80 Fahrenheit. Also, the FBI found an average increase of between 35-40% in the murder rate in urban areas from February to July over a span of five years of records. It was 90 degrees in April when the 1992 Rodney King riots in LA started.
    • Somewhat subverted in the England Riots of 2011. Despite taking place in August, the temperatures around England, and London in particular, had actually been rather cool. The days the riots took place had not been especially hot either.
  • As in 1776 above, it was unbearably hot in Philadelphia near the end (May–July, 1776) of the Second Continental Congress, during which the American Declaration of Independence was drafted and voted on.
  • The 2003 Big Blackout in the northeast of the U.S.A and parts of Canada came on a blisteringly hot August day, especially in New York. Think of the people stuck on the subway, where it gets even hotter...
    • And also during the infamous blackout of 1977, described as the "summer that New York lost it's mind". Temperatures were skyrocketing, corruption was rampant, and the Serial Killer Son of Sam had made the city his personal hunting ground. The blackout capped everything off, leading to riots and looting—it took DECADES for some neighborhoods to recover.
  • The summer of 2011 was a bit of an aversion. Despite breaking records all across the U.S. with many cities reporting 50+ (and even 90+) days of serial 100+ temperatures. Several states also recorded the hottest months of June, July, August, and September ever, with similar drought records being set. Despite this, crime was actually a lower compared to years previous. Presumably, it's not worth the energy to commit high crime in sizzling temperatures.