Here are a couple instances that illustrate how odd this July has been.
Remember that thunderstorm on July 15 that crashed through the Northside-Westside Block Party and soaked dozens of other Saturday picnics around Missoula? It was so concentrated in its path, none of its rain hit the gauge at the National Weather Service station by Missoula International Airport. Thus, the official precipitation for the month remains at “trace.”
And yet, Missoula will probably close out its July logbook 1.33 inches of moisture above normal for the year. Through June, the area soaked up 10.05 inches of snow and rain, compared to the average 8.72. Kalispell didn’t do quite as well, but still floats almost two-thirds of an inch above its average 10.5 inches year-to-date.
“The heat everyone’s been feeling shows in the record,” NWS meteorologist Lance VandenBoogart said Friday. “We’re on track to have the fourth-warmest high temperatures for the month of July in Missoula.”
The month got started with several days of record-setting or -breaking heat in western Montana. Missoula hit triple digits on July 8 and 9, with a high temperature of 101 on July 9 that broke the old record of 99 set on that date in 1943. Kalispell also set a July 9 record at 96 degrees, topping the 95 mark from 1964. The next day, Kalispell also matched a record high temperature with a reading of 96, previously hit on July 10, 1985.
So far, Missoula’s July has been 5.1 degrees hotter than normal. It’s also received .87 inches less rain than usual, with the biggest single-day report for the month being a trace of precipitation on Thursday.
In the short term, a high pressure system has dug in over the Northern Rocky Mountains and looks to stay through next week. That means afternoon temperatures in western Montana valleys like Missoula and the Bitterroot should stay in the high 90s up to 100.
That’s already triggered “hoot-owl” restrictions on fishing east of Missoula, where Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials have imposed curfews on the Upper Clark Fork River and Silver Bow Creek to protect fish. Anglers must leave the rivers alone between 2 p.m. and 2 a.m. when the water is warmest and trout survival is threatened.
“We impose those whenever water temperature goes above 73 degrees for three days in a row,” FWP spokesman Greg Lemon said Friday. Numerous rivers in south-central Montana have already triggered restrictions, including parts of the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Madison, Gallatin, Jefferson, Sun and Smith rivers. Near Missoula, high temperatures likely will start affecting access to parts of the lower Bitterroot River in the next week, Lemon said.
On land, Stage II restrictions on activity in public property like national forests, county parks, wildlife refuges and state forests limit the use of open flame or fire-starting activity. Campfires are not allowed and all smoking must be done on hard-surfaced areas or indoors. Off-road motorized travel is prohibited and industrial work like firewood cutting, welding and blasting must be completed between 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. Workers must maintain a one-hour foot patrol for fire starts after ceasing activity.
So is relief on the way? Not anytime soon, according to the National Weather Service. Looking ahead to August, the NWS predicts above-normal temperatures across nearly all of the U.S., but the "largest probabilities'' for hot weather next month are in the northern Great Plains.