Changes in mid-latitude circulation can strongly affect the number and intensity of extreme weather events. In particular, high-amplitude quasi-stationary planetary waves have been linked to prolonged weather extremes at the surface. In contrast, analyses of fast-traveling synoptic-scale waves and their direct influence on heat and cold extremes are scarce though changes in such waves have been detected and are projected for the 21st century. Here we apply regression analyses of synoptic activity with surface temperature and precipitation in monthly gridded observational data. We show that over large parts of mid-latitude continental regions, summer heat extremes are associated with low storm track activity. In winter, the occurrence of cold spells is related to low storm track activity over parts of eastern North America, Europe, and central- to eastern Asia. Storm tracks thus have a moderating effect on continental temperatures. Pronounced storm track activity favors monthly rainfall extremes throughout the year, whereas dry spells are associated with a lack thereof. Trend analyses reveal significant regional changes in recent decades favoring the occurrence of cold spells in the eastern US, droughts in California and heat extremes over Eurasia.