Official State Travel Site





The Seasons of Montana

An optimist once said there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather. In Montana, we have it all ...snowy white winters, cool wet springs, warm dry summers, and magnificent lingering autumns.

Montana's dry western climate combined with brisk winter temperatures and high elevations make unbeatable powder snow. In the spring, all that snow rushes down the mountains to feed the valleys below. The result is a dazzling splash of color painted in field after field of wildflowers. In the summer, Montanans relax and enjoy long, sunny days with warm, dry temperatures. Autumn is a favorite because the days are warm, the nights crisp and the air unbelievably fresh.

The hallmark of Montana's weather system is its changeability. It is not uncommon to experience a 60-degree spread from one day to the next. Because of its location in a chinook belt, central Montana's weather is the most changeable, on average, of any area in the nation.

A chinook is a warm, dry, southwesterly wind that occurs on the downwind slope of any major mountain range. Montana's chinook belt extends about 150 miles east from the eastern slopes of the Rockies, making central Montana a highly changeable boundary layer between cold and warm air. When a good strong chinook replaces retreating arctic air, temperatures rise dramatically. Once, during a chinook, the temperature in Havre (in northcentral Montana) rose 26 degrees in 45 seconds. Montana is also on record as having the greatest temperature spread. The difference between our lowest recorded temperature, minus 70 degrees, and our highest, 117 degrees is 187 degrees.

Montana is Milder Than Perceived

Generally, here is what you can expect of Montana's weather on a season-by-season basis:

Winter (December through early March) Cold spells in December usually don't last long because they are replaced by warm, chinook winds. In January and February, storms become more vigorous and winter gets down to business. While it can stay cold, the usual pattern alternates between cold and mild spells. Cold weather is more frequent over the eastern third of the state, while milder weather prevails to the west. Winter in this northern climate lends itself to ideal skiing conditions because the snow that blankets the Rockies is generally dry powder. And, while cold is not uncommon in the mountain valleys, ski slopes can extend into the mild air above, making Montana a skier's paradise.

Spring (late March through June) This is the season of wind and rain. Montana can still get snow in March and April, but by this time the sun is far enough north that our days are becoming warm. In May and June, the winds die down, the rain picks up, the sun is benign and the earth comes back to life. Buds appear, birds return to their summer home and wildflowers transform the winter landscape into a burst of color. Spring in Montana is an artist gone berserk.

Summer (late June through August) Summer is generally hot over the plains and mild in the mountainous west. Late afternoon thunderstorms are typical over the entire state. In the higher elevations, hikers and backpackers enjoy mild days and cool nights. The days are long because of Montana's northern location. In summer, Montana's famed rivers run clear.

Autumn (September through November) Following a first cool, wet hint of winter around Labor Day is Montana's most enchanting season-a period of unseasonably warm weather that frequently extends into late November. It's Indian Summer, characterized by warm days, cool nights, fresh, crisp air and brilliant colors. Time to be outdoors. Time to hunt and fish. Time to wax skis, sharpen edges, chop wood and prepare for the next glorious cycle.

What to Wear

Bring a variety of clothing to stay comfortable in our changeable weather. Montana is seldom consistently hot or consistently cold. Every season holds some surprises. Montanans like to dress in layers so they can peel clothes off or add them until they are comfortable.

In the summer, shorts or light-weight slacks, sun dresses and short-sleeve shirts are the rule. If you spend much time outdoors, it's always wise to bring a jacket. In the fall and again in the spring, wardrobes run from shorts and tops to wool pants and flannel shirts. The weather is variable so the Boy Scout rule applies here: Be prepared. The only way to beat wool or polypropylene in the winter is with layers of them. You will find the best-dressed Montanans wearing insulated boots, socks, long underwear, pants, shirts, jackets, mittens and caps. Lighter-weight clothing is never out of reach, however, because mild periods are expected.

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