It rained!

‘It’s not going to be super hot’ but drought is not done either

By: and - August 18, 2021 6:15 pm

A double rainbow near Box Elder Creek (Photo by Dennis Lingohr. Courtesy of the American Prairie Reserve).

You might have seen your own breath outside Wednesday morning and even – if you were lucky – gotten rained on in Montana this week.

A recent storm dropped 1.75 inches of rain in Eureka, 1.5 inches on the Thorne Fire near Thompson Falls, and 9/10ths of an inch in Helena, according to the National Weather Service in Missoula. Missoula saw a spitting of 2/10ths of an inch, and just 2/100ths of an inch landed in Dillon. 

The drought still continues, as do 25 large wildfires, but cool weather came along with the precipitation, and the reprieve was welcome. The highs in Montana dropped 20 or even 30 degrees in some parts.

“We’re all super thankful for what’s turning out to be almost a week of cool, cloudy rainy weather, and we will bounce back after the weekend is over,” said Joe Messina, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Missoula. “We’ll return to more fair weather, but it’s not going to be super hot. It’s going to be more seasonable, more average temperatures.”

Matt Jackson, meteorologist out of the National Weather Service in Great Falls, said the Electric City saw 1.62 inches of rain to date, and Cascade County got hit with a lot of rain. Many areas in central Montana got well over an inch, and he said Chouteau, Hill, Jefferson, and Lewis and Clark counties got generously watered for August.

“But there’s a lot of areas that did not receive much of anything,” Jackson said. “Just one storm is definitely not going to clean that out or get rid of the drought.”

He pointed to Blaine and Fergus counties and parts of the Hi-Line as those that didn’t get much precipitation, maybe a tenth of an inch or less.

The Billings area, like many parts of the state, saw an extremely rapid swing in temperatures. On Tuesday, smoke filled the skies and the high reached 92, with a triple-digit high of 100 on Monday. By Wednesday morning, rain had set in and temperatures were hovering near 50.

While rain fell constantly throughout the day Wednesday, the National Weather Service forecasters in Billings called for a 70 percent chance of showers to continue through Friday, and then diminishing throughout the weekend. Forecasters said as much as 1.25 inches of rain could fall, boosting the already above average rainfall for August. 

Still, even with nearly an inch of rain before the storms on Wednesday and factoring in the rain on its way, much of Montana remains significantly behind average precipitation. The Billings area remains 4.25 inches of rain behind normal, but better than last year’s total on the same date.

The forecast gets more critical the more east you travel. The National Weather Service in Glasgow predicts rain and cooler temperatures, which is welcome news because that area remains in extreme drought, getting just 0.13 inches of precipitation this month, behind the average of 0.56 inches for August. For 2021, the Glasgow area remains more than 6 inches behind normal through Aug. 17.

In Missoula, Messina said the precipitation that’s fallen is a decent drop for the time of year, but it also feels like a bigger relief because of the duration of the high temperatures, above the 90s, in recent weeks.

“Usually, August is not a super high precipitation month, but this was a good event for sure,” Messina said. “And it’s not over. We’re looking at clouds and cool weather through the weekend going into Sunday.” 

This week will bring highs in the mid 70s in western Montana, he said, and next week they will be back up, but only into the 80s.

“Even after this is done, we’re still going to return to more seasonable temperatures,” he said. “We are going to go back to clear skies and sunshine. (But) we’ll be more in the realm of normalcy.”

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.

Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming.