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The Worst Winters in Montana History

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

This is my first winter in Montana.  If I had a dollar for every time someone told me this is the worst winter we’ve ever seen, I could afford to buy a beachfront villa in Maui.  While the National Weather Service has never officially ranked the worst winters on record, they did release an article in 1999 compiling the “Top 10 Montana Weather Events of the 20th Century“.

If you think today is miserable, just be thankful you weren’t in Fairfield, Montana, on December 24, 1924.  In 12 hours, the temperature fell from 63 degrees to -21.  It remains the greatest 12 hour temperature change in United States history.

If you remember the winter of 1989, you’d probably like to forget the record cold front that rolled through Billings from January 30th through February 4th.  Temperatures in some areas of the state dropped below -50.  To make matter worse, high winds resulted in a wind chill of nearly 70 below.  Billings set record lows for five consecutive days.

In the spring of 1969, a late season snowstorm devastated southeastern Montana.  Snow drifts were over 20 feet tall in some places, resulting in the loss of over 100,000 head of cattle.  The storm knocked down power lines all over the state.  In the outlying areas, many residents were without power for two weeks.

The coldest temperature ever recorded in the lower 48 states was at Roger’s Pass, Montana, in January of 1954 when the mercury dropped to 70 degrees below zero.

Of course, if you don’t like the weather in Montana, just wait a while and it will change.  In January of 1916, an arctic cold front dropped the temperature 100 degrees, from 44 above to 56 below in one day.  And just as quickly as the mercury can fall, it can also rise.  In 1980, Great Falls went from -32 to 15 above in a period of seven minutes.

Most experts agree that the coldest winter ever recorded in Montana came in 1936.  In February of that year, the average temperature over 22 degrees below normal.  Dozens of weather related fatalities were reported all over the state.  What makes the winter of 1936 even more remarkable was how long lasted.  Some towns reported temperatures below -20 in April.  Let’s hope the winter of 2014 doesn’t hang on that long.

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