1936 North American cold wave
The 1936 North American cold wave ranks among the most intense cold waves in recorded North American meteorological history. The states of the Midwest United States were hit the hardest. February 1936 was the coldest month recorded in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and rivals that of 1899 as the coldest February on record (since 1895) over the contiguous United States.
What was notable about this cold wave was that the 1930s had previously seen some of the mildest winters in recorded US history – 1930/1931 in the northern Plains, 1931/1932 in the East, 1932/1933 in New England and 1933/1934 in the Western States. The northern plains had during the previous eleven years experienced six of their ten warmest Februaries between 1895 and 1976 – those of 1925, 1926, 1927, 1930, 1931 and 1935, with only February 1929 being at all severe during this period.
The cold wave was followed by one of the hottest summers on record, the 1936 North American heat wave.
This significant cold wave started in December 1935 in the eastern half of the USA, when most places were much below average, and Florida saw its coolest December on record, with a mean temperature of 51.9 °F (11.1 °C). The Plains states, however, were near average.
The Plains states started to get a taste of what it would be like until March, as North Dakota saw an average temperature of −6.9 °F (−21.6 °C) and the whole of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains was colder than average. Severe winds made wind chills in some locations go down to −85 °F (−65 °C). Heavy snow and cold created dangerous conditions outside. Many people suffered from frostbite and hypothermia.
February was by far the coldest month in the severe cold wave. The states of South Dakota, Minnesota, and North Dakota saw their coldest month on record with average temperatures were below 0 °F (−18 °C). More heavy snow and severe wind chills created very dangerous conditions. Wind chills in some locations were near −100 °F (−73 °C). This intense cold compelled some people to wear seven layers of clothing before going outdoors. And two states in this February saw their coldest temperatures on record, −58 °F (−50 °C) in McIntosh, South Dakota, and −60 °F (−51 °C) in Parshall, North Dakota. These two states also recorded all-time high temperatures in July, less than five months later.
March 1936 brought severe flooding when temperatures rose above freezing. Above average to near average temperatures were recorded throughout the United States, except for the Pacific Northwest, which was not hit as hard by this cold wave as by those of 1949 or 1950. Melting snow and ice caused rivers to burst their banks. Despite the warm March over most areas east of the Rockies, the extended winter from October to March was the fifth coldest on record over the conterminous United States and the coldest since 1917.
- Diaz, Henry F. and Quayle, Robert G.; ‘The 1976-77 Winter in the Contiguous United States in Comparison with Past Records’; Monthly Weather Review, 106 (1977), no. 10, pp. 1392-1422
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Central NWS Region Average February Mean Temperature, 1895-1976
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Contiguous United States Temperatures: October to March