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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

2022 brought extreme weather to Montana

Lightning strikes Mount Sentinel in Missoula, MT during a thunderstorm, July 7, 2022.
Josh Burnham
Lightning strikes Mount Sentinel in Missoula, MT during a thunderstorm, July 7, 2022.

2022 was full of weather extremes in Montana, from late-season snowstorms and historic flooding in Yellowstone to lengthy heatwaves and a record-setting December deep-freeze.

Scientists say no single weather event is directly caused by climate change. But, a warming climate will bring with it more frequent bouts of extreme weather.

“It’s Montana, and if anyone has lived here for any amount of time, we know it’s the land of extremes,” Great Falls National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Hart says.

According to Hart, the series of late-season winter storms in April that piled on layers of heavy, wet snow in the mountains weren’t unusual on their own. But a warmup and rainfall in June created the very unusual conditions responsible for the flood that washed away roads and homes in Yellowstone National Park and nearby communities.

All that moisture wasn’t enough to pull Montana out of drought conditions, though. Hart says the dry period that began in 2020 will continue into 2023, although a wet spring and early start to winter this year did help lessen the drought’s severity.

Weather during the back half of 2022 toppled records for heat, cold, and severe storms. Hart says July brought with it multiple weeks of wall-to-wall severe thunderstorm watches.

“You have to go back all the way to the 80s before we could find some comparisons to make this as busy of a season,” Hart says.

Those storms gave way to a period of record-setting heat in central and western Montana in July and August. Hart says Great Falls recorded its all-time latest day of 100-degree heat in September.

Not long after that, winter arrived early with widespread snowfall across the state in late October. The cold snap just before Christmas last week sent temperatures to rock-bottom. Bozeman posted -45 degrees — just one degree warmer than its all-time low in 1983.

Hart says the new year is forecast to begin with a lot less ferocity, but temperatures could potentially drop again midway through January.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

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