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June is the wettest month in Montana, but this year, it’s extra rainy in Billings


June is the wettest month in Montana, but this year, it’s extra rainy in Billings

Jun 08, 2023 | 8:00 pm ET
By Keila Szpaller
June is the wettest month in Montana, but this year, it’s extra rainy in Billings
June is the wettest month in Montana for average rainfall. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

It’s super soggy in Billings, and most of the state is covered by a flood watch, according to the National Weather Service.

Last weekend in just 24 hours, Billings saw nearly six inches of rainfall, said Cory Mottice, warning coordinator with the National Weather Service in Billings.

Typically, he said, the total for the month hits just a couple of inches.

“We’ve certainly blown it out of the water,” Mottice said Thursday.

June is generally the wettest month in Montana, and May a close second, according to meteorologists across the state. So thunderstorms rattling the skies across Montana aren’t unusual, but the fast soaking this year means possible trouble for places that are already saturated.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Rebecca Colnar, with the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, said even the quick spray of precipitation is better than the alternative.

“It’s better than nothing. It’s certainly better than a drought,” Colnar said.

Last June around the same time, 95% of Montana was experiencing dry conditions compared to 49% this year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This week, no parts of the state are in extreme or exceptional drought, compared to 13% and 4% last year, respectively.

Colnar said the Farm Bureau just wrapped up its summer conference earlier this week in Bozeman, and weather was a hot topic. However, reports varied.

“Some people had gotten a lot more moisture than last year, where some have only gotten a little more than the past couple of years,” Colnar said.

On the whole, though, she said farmers and ranchers said they were happy about the weather.

“There was a very optimistic feeling at our summer conference that we are getting quite a bit of moisture this year,” she said.

She herself has a ranch in Miles City, and she said one concern has emerged in southeast Montana. It’s also linked to temperature.

Colnar said people already are seeing grasshoppers, and the insects will eat all the great forage that’s coming up.

“They just eat anything, and there’s beautiful grass right now in our pastures, but there’s also quite a few grasshoppers, small grasshoppers, coming along,” Colnar said.

For the grasshoppers to die, she said the temperature has to get very cold before there’s snow. The winter was cold and long, she said, but it didn’t kill them, and they’re difficult to stop.

“If it snows and the ground is still warm, they’re protected from the cold because the snow insulates them,” Colnar said.

In the Great Falls area, the current weather worry is flooding, said Austin McDowell, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Word of advice from McDowell if you see flood waters: Don’t drive into them.

“You don’t know if the road can be washed out,” McDowell said.

He said lots of showers and thunderstorms have hit central Montana, recently hitting mostly the Rocky Mountain Front and areas towards Bozeman as well.

The weather is unsettled for the next day or so, and the forecast said rain will persist in northcentral Montana with a 60% to 70% chance.

He said that prediction is a concern given the three recent “pretty good rain events.” That’s also the case for places burned in wildfires, which can lead to a higher risk of flooding.

“Our soils are very much saturated, and that’s raising concerns, especially for flash flooding,” McDowell said.

Average rainfall

Great Falls
June: 2.81 inches
May: 2.37 inches

June: 2.12 inches
May: 1.87 inches

June: 2.47 inches
May: 1.77 inches

June: 2.90 inches
May: 2.89 inches

Source: National Weather Service Great Falls

In Missoula, forecaster Ryan Lynch said the mountains are seeing heavier rain, an inch or more recently, including along the Interstate 90 area running east of Missoula toward Garrison Junction.

More rain and thunderstorms are forecast for Friday and for the weekend, although not as much as Thursday, he said. However, he also said the Missoula area isn’t seeing rainfall out of the ordinary, given June is the wettest month of the year.

Fire season can start anywhere from about the middle of June to even as late as August, depending on the moisture, he said. Usually, things start drying out around the 4th of July.

The recent watering might keep the start of fire season at bay until it’d normally start, he said, although lots of June remains.

“But it definitely helps in a positive direction,” Lynch said.

In Billings, Mottice said the month has been “unusually wet,” even for June. Rain is in the forecast through the weekend, and a chance of thunderstorms is predicted next week, too.

The last couple of days, the city itself has been spared the worst of the deluge, but the storms that are throwing rainfall in the area mean business.

“We’re seeing storms that are dumping on average maybe one to two inches of rain an hour at least,” Mottice said.

The threat is going to continue, he said. It hasn’t hit as far east as Miles City yet, but it might make its way there Friday.

The torrid last weekend wasn’t a record, he said, but that’s because of where the data was captured.

A gauge on the west end of town measured 5.8 inches during the course of 24 hours, he said. However, he said the official records are at the airport, and there, the highest total in 24 hours is 3.8 inches, and the airport saw an estimated 3.3 inches.

Currently, he said, there’s still lots of standing water, and one road sustained $600,000 in flood damage. He also said the water washes away soils in the rimrocks outside the city, and lots of roads have been temporarily closed after the resulting rockfalls.

Luckily, no vehicles have been hit so far, he said.

People are still cleaning debris out of drainages and culverts, he said, and if it rains again, it won’t take much for the waters to rise again given the current saturation level.