Montana Public Radio

Report: Spring Coming Sooner, Warmer In Montana

Mar 19, 2020
Originally published on March 19, 2020 12:32 pm

Spring in Montana is getting warmer and lasting longer according to new research from a non-profit group of independent scientists. One of their meteorologist explains what the changing spring means for life in Montana.

Climate Central looked back five decades and found that spring temperatures in Montana had warmed two degrees on average over the past 50 years and the season was six days long.

Two degrees warmer might not seem like that significant of an increase but Climate Central meteorologist Sean Sublette says that’s on average with more extremes.

"You’re going to have more incidences of extreme heat and much fewer incidences of extreme cold. So even though you have what seems to be a small increase the in average that gives you a dramatic increase in the extremes on the warm sides," Sublette says. 

Climate Central is an independent group of scientists and journalists headquartered in New Jersey who research and report on the changing climate. For this study they went back to 1970 to analyze weather data from cities from around the country, including Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Glendive, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula in Montana

Sublette says for Montana this temperature increase impacts snowpack in the higher elevations which is not as deep as it used to be–on average—and it has dissipated more quickly. Rivers and streams in late spring and summer are warmer, impacting fishing.

And the effect is felt in agriculture, one of Montana’s largest economic drivers.

"You’re going to have more pests and more weeds showing up earlier and lasting later into the season. So, agriculturally, you’re going to have to add more resources or spend more resources fighting off those pests," Sublette says. 

Sublette says what happens over the next 50 years is impacted by what we do now.

"It really depends on lot of the choices that we decide to make in the next one to two decades because it takes a while for the atmosphere to reach equilibrium," Sublette says.

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