A LOOK BACK: US Winter Of 1935-36

Written by on December 20, 2015 in Autumn 2015, United States of America, Winter 2015/16 with 0 Comments

Every weekend in the run up to New Year I thought it might be good to take a step back in time and relive some of America and Europe’s very worst, most extreme winters of the last 100+ years.

The 1935-36 winter was tough for the majority of the US but particularly so for the Northern Rockies and Plains. For extreme cold, this winter was thee benchmark which remains untouched to this day.

Edmore, North Dakota on January 19, 1936

Edmore, North Dakota on January 19, 1936



Noteworthy facts from Christopher C Burt
Langdon, ND became famous for it’s cold during the remarkable and worst Plains winter in recorded history. The small North Dakota town went an incredible 41 straight days without reaching 0F, longest such stretch anywhere in the Lower 48. Langdon also went 92 straight days without reaching 32F and consecutive nights below 0F? 67 days!
Fort Berthold Agency, ND went 7 straight days with highs of -20F or lower and 2 weeks with highs of -10F or colder. Turtle Lake, ND saw a mean temperature of -19.4F in February, the lowest mean temperature for a month recorded anywhere in the Lower 48.
Amazingly, the summer which followed still stands today as one of the hottest summers in history.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Winter 1935 (December 1935 – February 1936) Temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit. Record warmest and coldest is based on a 112 year period of records, 1895–2006.

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 and the Prairie Provinces of Canada were hit the hardest, but only the Southwest and California largely escaped its effects. February 1936 was the coldest month recorded in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota, and rivals that of 1899 the coldest February on record for the continent as a whole. Only a few parts of the Great Basin, the Bering Sea coast of Alaska and the Labrador Sea coast of Canada were even close to their long-term means.

The 1930s had previously seen some of the mildest winters in recorded North American climatic history – 1930/1931 in the northern Plains and Western Canada, 1931/1932 in the East, 1932/1933 in New England and 1933/1934 in the Western United States.[1] 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[2] – with only February 1929 being severe during this period.

Despite a 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.[3]

The cold wave was followed by one of the hottest summers on record, the 1936 North American heat wave.


Winter 1935 (December 1935 – February 1936) Precipitation, in inches. Record wettest and driest is based on a 112 yr period of records, 1895–2006.

The 1936 cold wave began in the Plains in November of 1935, when temperatures were well below normal in all areas west of the Mississippi, and the northwestern states and North Dakota had one of their coldest Novembers on record. December 1935 saw cold weather spread to 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). Due to chinook winds, however, Montana and British Columbia were significantly above average and the eastern Plains near normal.


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. The month began with a mild spell in the eastern states, but from mid-month a huge storm moved across the eastern half of the country to cover that region completely by the nineteenth,[4] in the process producing heavy snow and blocking almost all roads in the Appalachian Mountains.[5] Several highway accidents from the snow were blamed for up to 100 deaths.[5]

In the subsequent weeks, as the cold continued, the sea froze partially as far south as Chesapeake Bay, and between 25 and 28 January the East had had its coldest January spell for eighteen years, with Washington, D.C. averaging 14 °F or −10.0 °C[6] Severe winds made wind chills in some locations go down below −85 °F (−65 °C). In the Centralia district and Ohio,[7] the cold completely destroyed the peach crop, whilst defective heaters caused numerous dangerous fires in Minnesota.[6]

Heavy snow and cold created dangerous conditions outside, and many people suffered from frostbite and hypothermia.


February 1936 US Temperature, in degrees Fahrenheit. Record warmest and coldest is based on a 112 yr period of records, 1895–2006.

February was by far the coldest month in the severe winter. The states of South Dakota, Minnesota, and North Dakota saw their coldest month on record with average temperatures below 0 °F (−17.8 °C) whilst in Canada away from the Atlantic temperatures averaged as much as 36 °F or 20 °C below normal. In Saskatoon, temperatures did not rise above 0 °F or −17.8 °C between January 11 and February 19.[8][9]

As far south as Richmond, Virginia, rivers were completely ice-bound,[7] and skis had to be used in rescue operations as a succession of snowstorms hit the Pacific Northwest and the whole nation east of the Divide.[10] Thaws accompanied by heavy rain over the South led to flooding, but did not extend beyond the Mason–Dixon line, where food and fuel shortages had created critical situations by the end of the first week of February.[10]

More heavy snow and severe wind chills created very dangerous conditions over the two following weeks. By the middle of the month all schools in the Midwest, Great Plains and Pacific Northwest were closed by deep snowdrifts, and medical aid was affected by a shortage of serum. Many remote South Dakota towns had not had outside contact for several weeks,[11] and in Canada the situation was much worse, with road and rail transport suspended even in cities

Wind chills in some locations were near −100 °F (−73.3 °C), compelling some people to wear seven layers of clothing before going outdoors. Two states in this brutal February saw their coldest temperatures on record, −58 °F (−50 °C) in McIntosh, South Dakota, and −60 °F (−51.1 °C) in Parshall, North Dakota – whilst an unofficial reading of minus 60 Fahrenheit was also recorded from Jordan, Montana, and an official reading of −63 °F (−52.8 °C) from Sceptre, Saskatchewan.[12] These three states also recorded all-time hot temperatures in July, less than five months later.

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 (17.2 °C) below average, whilst at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota the average temperature for the five weeks ending February 21 was −21 °F or −29.4 °C.[13] At the peak of the cold wave, stores in the Plains were estimated to generally have only two days’ supply left.[12]


In the final week of February a thaw finally came to the nation. Temperatures rose above freezing for the first time in up to eleven weeks (e.g. at Fargo it reached 32 °F or 0 °C on March 1 for the first time since December 14, 1935). The warming led, however, to avalanches in the Pacific Northwest, where three people were killed on Snoqualmie Pass on February 24.[14]

Above average to near average temperatures were recorded throughout the United States in March, except for the Pacific Northwest, which was not hit as hard by this cold wave as by those of 1949 or 1950. The heavy winter snowfalls and freezing of the ground, along with the wettest March on record in the Northeast[15] led to record floods in most of the region’s rivers, especially on smaller tributary streams.[16]

Another account from Iowa…

Source: http://iagenweb.org/humboldt/1936blizzard.htm

Some of America’s most extreme weather occurred in 1935 and 1936. In fact, most of the decades records happened in these two years. Forty percent of the states recorded the lowest yearly precipitation on record, eleven states recorded the lowest one day temperature, while twenty-six states recorded the their highest one day temperatures.

In the Spring of 1935, the “Dust Bowl,” was taking place in much of the Great Plains.  The affected areas were from Colorado to Kansas, to Oklahoma.  Sixty mile an hour winds caused dust storms.  These unusual weather conditions were happening during the “Depression Era” when economic conditions were taking a terrible toll on America.

*On Labor Day weekend, 1935, the strongest hurricane in history to strike the U.S. made landfall in the Florida Keys. An incredible barometric pressure of 26.35, a record that has not been broken, accompanied the hurricane.  The winds were estimated at 200 mile per hour. 

All across the northern section of the country, winter brought bitter cold temperatures.  New record snowfalls were recorded.  Missoula, Montana had a February total snowfall of 43 inches.  The West Coast experienced extreme rainfall.  Record cold temperature was registered in Great Fall, Montana with a minus 49 degrees.  Fargo, North Dakota remained below zero for thirty-seven straight days. 

Following the record snowfalls and cold temperatures, Spring 1936 brought severe flooding in the Middle Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and Northeast.  The floods caused 270 million dollars of damage, and the lives of 107 people. 

Mother Nature wasn’t finished yet.  The tornado season started in April, 1936.  Seventeen tornados blew through northern Mississippi, Tennessee, northern Alabama, and Georgia.  Four hundred and forty-six people were killed in rare nocturnal tornados.

It was a very hot summer!  Some of the cities that recorded record highs were Minneapolis, Minnesota-108 degrees, Fargo North Dakota -114 degrees, Fort Smith Arkansas – 115 degrees, Tulsa, Oklahoma – 117 degrees.  On August 18, 1936, Iowa had its hottest ever August day with the average high temperature for 113 reporting stations of 106.5 degree.  The summer heat was so intolerable, that many families slept outside at night to escape the heat of their houses.*   

The following three photographs were taken in Humboldt County.  They provide a visual example of the amount of snow that fell during “1936 Blizzard.”

Rutland men shoveling snow.

February 6, 1936 – severe blizzard conditions over all of Iowa were the toughest in modern history.

Blizzard – February 8-10, 1936 – Statewide.  Heavy snow and strong winds caused severe drifting.

Mrs. Tuttle and Mrs. Ruse pictured on a road near Livermore 

Photo of Gilmore City



Lake Park Iowa:

On February 6, 1936, a two-day blizzard stopped all activity in the region.  Temperatures dropped to minus 25 and the train was held up in Worthington for nine days.  The plows on the trains had to barrel through the drifts at 35 to 40 miles per hour to get through.  the depot had to board up windows to prevent them from breaking when the trains blew through.

Pierson Iowa:

Winter of 1936 –  A blizzard struck Pierson and the area February, tying up traffic and isolating the town. There was no relief in sight of this snow and high winds for days to follow.  It filled up cuts and produced huge drifts that blocked roads and even had the railroad at a halt.  This cause depleted supplies and many families had to risk walking into town to get needed supplies that may or may not be available.  Schools were shut down indefinitely and shoveling produced snow piles ten to twelve feet high in front of businesses.

The mail carrier could not deliver mail with horse and wagon due to the high drifting and did his route on foot.   Doctors couldn’t get to ill patient and the farmers  had to organize to drive in shifts to get the doctors around.  It took thirty-eight men and twenty horses to go eight miles in the blizzard. The horses and men  simply got mired down trying to get through this harsh condition. 


One of our family stories was of my father having to walk from highway 169 to Livermore on snow drifts that were as high at the telephone lines.  I always questioned his story, until I saw the following picture which confirmed the story. 


Photo taken in Ames, Iowa

*Source Information : Intellicast Almanac

The Weather Century- 1935-1936

Some of America’s most extreme weather occurred in 1935 and 1936. In fact most of the decades records happened in these two years. 19 states recorded minimimum yearly precip rcords, 11 states had lowest on-day temp records, 26 states recorded highest one-day temp records (both of those are more then any other decade). There were 59 state records in the 1930s more then any other decade and nearly twice as many as the next decade in line! We start our journey in the spring of 1935, a time when the “black blizzard” was going on in the Great Plains. It was the worst drought in that part of the world since the farming evolution. 60 mph winds kicked up frequent dust storms that reduced visibility so much, that you couldn’t see in front of you. The affected area: Colorado to Kansas to Oklahoma. Soil was ripped and houses were gutted with dust. And with these depressing weather conditions happening when the country was facing its worst economic times ever, it didn’t help matters any. The drought in the Plains lasted for the rest of the year.
With a dust bowl happening in the Plains, it was Labor Day weekend and a tropical storm lie south of the Bahamas. It became a tropical storm on August 29, 36 hours later, the strongest hurricane in history to strike the U.S. made landfall in the Florida Keys on September 2. The lowest barometric pressure reading in the U.S. still stands there at an incredible 26.35 in of mercury! The horrible part was that the storm intensified so rapidly! Winds were estimated at 200 mph well into Catagory 5 status. People couldn’t evacuate in time especially with the storms rather weak intensity just days before landfall. The only route to the mainland was the Florida East Coast Railroad. World War I veterans among others were building a highway down to the Keys at the time and a rescue train was sent down there. 10 of the 11 cars on the train were blown into the water and were gutted by storm surge killing most. Official death toll at 408 although twice as many were missing.
As the winter of 1935-1936 unfolded, it became bitterly cold across the northern section of the U.S. Snowfall records set at Missoula, MT with a monthly total in February 1936 of 43.5 inches that still stands today. Also the west was wet, Eureka, CA saw 26 straight rain days from Christmas 1935 to January 19 with a total of 11.02 inches. All time cold records were set in Great Falls, MT with -49 and Lander, WY with -40 degrees among other places. Fargo, ND stayed below zero for 37 straight days! Minneapolis had a record low of -34 and Bismarck went down to -45 degrees. More records to the other extreme would be seen but later in this year.
Flooding and severe weather made headlines in the spring of 1936. High water records remain in the Middle Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and Northeast following the severe flooding that occured. In that soggy month of March, 107 people died following the floods causing 270 million dollars ($2.5 billion 1990 dollars) in damage. The government responded quickly by passing the Flood Control Act which allocates $310 million for flood control. Also, special flood forecasting offices were authorized as a result of the flooding. From April 5-6, the worst tornado outbreak since 1925 occurred. It was the most tornados in an outbreak since 1896. 17 tornados blew through northern MS, TN, northern AL, northern GA and into SC. 446 people were killed in a series of tornados that began after the sun had set! These were nocturnal storms without the benefit of daytime heating. There were a lot of upper level dynamics involved that kept sirens going off all night. When Tupelo, MS woke up the next morning they found a city in ruins with 216 people dead. The same destruction in Gainesville, GA where 203 people were killed.
It was a hot hot summer! Cities that experienced record cold earlier in the winter got record warmth in the summer. These records stand to this day. Among the highlights, 108 degrees in Minneapolis, MN; 114 degrees in Fargo, ND; 113 degrees in Fort Smith, AR; 115 degrees in Tulsa, OK; 117 degrees in Grand Island, NE. Minneapolis had its hottest summer ever with average temp of 81.4 degrees and its longest string of above 100 degree temps lasting 5 days straight. Dayton, OH had 7 straight above 100 degree days and 10 days for the entire summer.
In the next year, more floods were in store for the Ohio Valley while the Great Plains still couldn’t buy a drop of precipitation. It stayed dry into 1941. For MRS Weather, Marcus Smith.



Follow us

Connect with Mark Vogan on social media to get notified about new posts and for the latest weather updates.

Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on YouTube

Leave a Reply