Montana Public Radio

Michael Downey

USDA / NMDC

Meteorologists last fall said Montana could be in store for a particularly cold and snowy La Niña winter. By late October, cold temperatures and record snowfall shattered regional records — but that wintery weather quickly gave way to much drier and mild conditions.

So what has happened to our winter, and what’s next?

Drought conditions in Montana as of June 30, 2020.
Adam Hartman - NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC

Montana’s southern tier is experiencing drought conditions that are expected to intensify this summer. That’s according to the latest Montana Drought Forecast report, presented this week to the Governor’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee.

Northwest and west central Montana started out dry in early spring but have recently benefited from lots of rain and cooler-than-normal temperatures.


A new report from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation is tentatively hopeful about Montana’s spring water outlook heading into fire season.

Flooding along Rock Creek, a tributary of the Clark Fork River, near Clinton, MT, June 4, 2017.
Josh Burnham

An advisory council to the governor is considering a change to Montana's law on predicting drought conditions, following the historic 2017 fire season that caught state officials by surprise.

This time last year, Governor Steve Bullock’s Drought and Water Supply Advisory Committee did not expect drought to be an issue for Montana in the warmer months of 2017. The committee sent their annual report to the governor last April when streamflows were high and spring rain was falling.

In this evening's feature interview with Edward O'Brien, Michael Downey with Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation explains why it's taken over 20 years to update Montana's water plan:

The existing Montana State Water Plan is long overdue for an update.

The existing plan guides the conservation and management of Montana's water resources.

It is currently over 20 years old and fails to address contemporary issues and challenges faced by water users today.

Montana DNRC

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has launched an initiative to update the state's water plan.