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Today's Weather Compared to Last Year

It is often difficult to remember what the weather was like a year ago. Thankfully, records are kept for this sort of thing. They might not always be easy to find, but they are still recorded. Have you compared the weather you are having with a year ago?

Here in Montana and for much of the Northern US, people may have noticed that there has been a trend toward longer, colder, snowier winters and shorter summers over the past decade or so. That is easy to say and to feel, but it lacks an impact until numbers are applied.

I’ve mentioned before that in 2018, our local weather started out from a period of mild but both snowy and rainy conditions. We had above normal snowfall in November and December 2017, and with abundant snow and rain mixed, rivers and streams in Montana were swelling by the first part of March. 

The soggy spring didn’t let up. Temperatures stayed relatively mild, without actually warming up, and many days had rain falling in the valleys and snow falling in the mountains. In an average year, by early May, we are starting to see sustained daily high temperatures between 50 F and 70 F (10 C to 21 C). That is typically the beginning of our growing season. It didn’t happen in 2018.

The result was that by early June, streams and rivers were flooding throughout the state from melting snow and rain. Although we’d had an above average snowfall, primarily in the mountains, it wasn’t greatly above average. Still, with the low temperatures and unceasing rain and snow mix, the ground was saturated and had no chance to dry out.

Our warm weather and the start of the growing season didn’t begin until July 5. The change to warm weather was also abrupt, so the deepest snow packs in the mountains began to melt rapidly, rather than gradually over the course of a couple of months.  For roughly three weeks, our local river, Clark Fork River, was between a half-foot below flood stage to a foot and a half above flood stage. These conditions were mirrored all over the state and in many places in Montana, floods didn’t recede until late July.

We had a typical summer, though it started way late and it ended about a month early. Note that when I refer to ‘summer’, I’m really talking about the growing season. We got a light dusting of snow in early September 2018 with freezing temperatures. That effectively ended the growing season.

How does that stack up with this year so far? In January 2019, the mountains had above normal snowfall amounts, but the valleys received little snow. We had some rain and freezing rain. Then February began. Our temperatures abruptly dropped and snow fell throughout the state.

A year ago today, March 3, the temperatures were mild, with a low temperature of 13 F (-10 C), a high of 18 F (-8 C), and there was intermittent snow throughout the day. Mind you, the average temperature spread for March 3 in this location is a low of 25 F and a high of 38 F, with occasional rain. 

That 13 F low temperature was a new record low for March 3. It has now been shattered. Our current temperature is -7 F (-22 C). It is also windy and there are windchill advisories in place. Our current temperature is 32 F below normal and 20 F lower than last year, with a little over 2 feet of snow on the valley floor.

So, how is your early March starting out, in regard to temperatures?

  • How is your weather right now compared to last year?

    • It is much warmer than last early March
    • It is a little warmer than early March a year ago
    • It is a little cooler than last year
    • It is much colder than last year
    • I don’t know/don’t remember what the weather was like last year
  • How much precipitation have you received the past couple of days?

    • None
    • A little more than last year
    • A lot more than last year
    • I don’t remember/don’t know how much precipitation we got last year

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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12 Comments

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    • Normally, we have four distinct seasons here in Montana. ‘Normal’ is a damp but not wet spring, cool in the day and cold at night. Summer is normally fairly dry, hot during the day and warm at night. Fall is dry, hot during the day and cool at night. Winter is snowy with occasional freezing rain, cold during the day and colder at night. The biggest change we’ve had in the past 10 years has been for wetter, cooler spring, much shorter summers with periods of intense heat, shorter, colder fall, and longer, colder winters.

    • Usually, our rainiest month is May, but we got quite a bit of snow if February. We got well above average snowfall for Feb. Next week, we’ll probably get more snow, but right now we are going through absurdly low temperatures. Another low-temperature record fell last night. I plan on writing about it.

        • Last year, we had a fairly good fire year. There were a few fires, but for the most part, they were contained before they got large. The 2017 fire year was very bad, though. Millions of acres of forest burned and many days in a row, it was so smokey that we could barely see across the road. The smoke didn’t substantially subside until after the first hard snowfall.

          • Dang, that is a long time for smoke to hang around. I know you heard about ours in the recent past, but we have the ocean breeze on one side and a whole lot of desert beyond for it to dissipate. They even had shots of the plume from space last time here.

        • That is a considerable amount of smoke. Our problem is that fire season is usually a time of very low humidity, often between 10% and 15%. With mountains on either side of our valley, when our humidity is very low, the wind usually blows over the top of us, from the tops of the mountains on one side to the tops of the mountains on the other side. This creates an inversion that traps the smoke close to the ground in the valley. It stays there until the wind shifts and blows through the valley rather than over it.

          One fire that burned about 5-miles outside of town two years ago, though, was tremendously intense. It was bad enough that the jet aircraft that would normally take thermal pictures of the fire from an altitude of about 10,000 feet above the fire had to be suspended for about a week. The updraft from the heat of the fire made flying even jet aircraft that far above the fire too dangerous. A friend of mine who flies one of those jets said that the turbulence was extreme, even at 12,000 feet. That is an extremely hot fire.

  1. This time last year in England we had what they referred to as ‘the beast from the east.’ We had snow from Siberia. But this February just gone has been the warmest on record! It’s very strange how the weather changes.

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