It’s been very cold across Montana this winter. Okay, that shouldn’t be surprising. However, what is different is this bone-chilling, dangerous and life-threatening kind of cold has lasted for a month, rather than a normal run of a few days or a week. It looks as if the bitter cold may be sticking around into spring.
Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Great Falls, Montana (ICAO code: GTF), at an altitude of 3,300 feet above sea level, is at the heart of the recent cold spell. The National Weather Service (NWS) office there tweeted last week that the city set a new record for the most consecutive days at or below 32 degrees. The streak lasted 32 days, and was was finally broken when the high reached 36 degrees on March 7.
It didn’t even get above zero, let alone freezing, on 11 different days in February and three days so far in March. Also, a record low of 32 below zero was set for the date of March 3. The average temperature in Great Falls for February was a measly minus 0.2, which is an astonishing 27.5 degrees below normal.
The town of Havre (ICAO code: HVR), at an elevation of 2,500 feet and about 110 miles northeast of Great Falls, had a 36-day streak of at/or below freezing temperatures. The streak, which ended when the high reached 37 on March 11, ranks third all-time for the town. The longest streak, which lasted 46 days, happened more than a century ago and ended in mid-February of 1916.
Many other areas of Big Sky Country have been unusually cold, too. So far this month, all-time record lows for March have been set at 22 reporting stations. The coldest has been 40 below zero at the Remote Automated Weather Station (RAWS) at Benchmark. The lowest official non-record temperature this month has been 46 below zero in Elk Park, between Butte and the state capital of Helena.
The Pressure is On
There’s a reason behind all this bitter cold – high pressure. As February began, it shifted northward from the west coast of the U.S. to Alaska, where some cities have had record warmth. The clockwise wind rotation around the high has sent arctic air into Montana and other northern tier states in the lower 48.
Based on the latest outlook, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) doesn’t expect the cold across Montana to budge anytime soon. There’s a high probability of overall temperatures remaining below normal at least through the end of March, as indicated by the dark blue shading in the image above. On the bright side, the initial long-range forecast for April and May show some improvement, so perhaps a spring thaw will come soon.