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1936 Highs and Lows

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North Dakota winters can get cold. North Dakotans take it as a point of pride that they can withstand temperatures that would make many people gasp.

The winter of 1935-36 proved to be a rough one, and February was the worst of all. Trains were halted by snowdrifts. Towns were isolated. The Watertown basketball team could not get home after a game, taking refuge in a stranded Great Northern train.

It got worse. On February 14th, the Bismarck Tribune observed that, while the temperature in the city was minus thirty-three degrees, the weather in Bismarck was mild compared to other locations in the state, but it got even colder.

On February 15, the temperature in Bismarck fell to minus forty-two, and that wasn’t even the coldest in the state. That winter set a record for cold temperature that still stands as it hit minus sixty degrees in Parshall.

But the extreme weather of 1936 was not done with North Dakota. Another temperature record was on the horizon, as the summer was brutally hot and the state fell into a drought. It was estimated that three-fourths of the grain crop was a loss. Fifty percent of wild ducks had died. North Dakotans anticipated a future with burned crops, dying livestock, and dry wells. Lakes and ponds known to go dry in a drought were dammed to preserve the water. The Federal government sent money to the state for WPA projects, dams, and farm loans.

Day after day, newspaper reports predicting cooler weather proved to be untrue. On this date in 1936, the state’s highest temperature ever recorded hit an impressive 121 degrees in Steele. For days the temperatures hovered around one hundred degrees. The lowest high temperature in the state on July 18 was ninety-six degrees.

The heat did break, but it seemed like the rain that failed in July came all at once in September. Bismarck received almost an inch in a thirteen-minute downpour on September 4th. The streets flooded, as did the basements of downtown stores.

North Dakota just couldn’t catch a break in the weather of 1936.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Bismarck Tribune. “Temperature Falls to -33 in Bismarck.” Bismarck ND. 2/14/1936. 1-2.
Bismarck Tribune. “Bismarck Temperature Falls to -42.” Bismarck ND. 2/15/1936. 1.
Bismarck Tribune. “Cooler Weather Again is Forecast.” Bismarck ND. 7/13/1936. 1.
Bismarck Tribune. “Only Hope Offered For Cool Weather.” Bismarck ND. 7/18/1936. 1.
Bismarck Tribune. “Nearly Inch of Rain Pours Down on Capitol City.” Bismarck ND. 9/5/1936. 1.
National Weather Service. “North Dakota Climate Extremes.” Accessed 6/1/22.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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