Why was 1936 a year of extremes?

Dear Tom,
It seems the year 1936 set records in both cold and hot categories. Were there any geological or astronomical phenomena that occurred that might have contributed to those highs and lows?
— Holly Mair, Chicago
Dear Holly,
The year 1936 was, indeed, a year of extremes, but no geological or astronomical events can be blamed. In the 1930s the nation’s midsection was in the midst of the infamous “Dust Bowl” a nearly decadelong siege of heat and drought. Nationally, the 1936 summer, especially July, was one of the nation’s hottest, a month where many locations established their all-time record highs. In Chicago, the 1936 summer was not as hot as other during the 1930s, but a few record highs set that year have yet to fall. A precursor to the incredibly hot summer, February 1936 remains the nation’s coldest February and Chicago’s third-coldest on record.