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The 1936 North American cold wave ranks among the most intense cold waves of the 1930s. The states of the Midwest United States were hit the hardest. February 1936 was one of the coldest months recorded in the Midwest. The states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota saw their coldest month on record. What was so significant about this cold wave was that the 1930s had some of the mildest winters in the US history. In addition to one of the coldest winters in the 1930s, the cold wave was followed by one of the warmest 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 in the east were much below average. The Plains states, however, were near average. The state of Florida saw their coldest December on record, with a temperature of 51.9 °F (11.1 °C).
Most places across the Midwest saw a colder than average January. The plains states started to get a taste of what it would be like until March. The state of North Dakota saw an average temperature of −7.0 °F (−21.7 °C). Most states in the Midwest were very cold in January 1936. The 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, and 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 hard by the cold wave. Melting snow and ice caused rivers to burst their banks. It ended as the coldest winter of the 1930s. Four states saw their coldest winter on record, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. In one town in Iowa, the average winter temperature was 31 °F (17 °C) below average.