“If Montana’s weather doesn’t fit your pistol, stick around for 15 minutes. It will change.”
Sorry, but the old saw doesn’t cut. A number of its teeth are missing. The remainder are dulled or dented. Of course, the weather will change. That’s what weather does.
I have heard the old proverb exercised from Yaak to Alzada. But I have also heard it on the Oregon Coast, in the Mississippi Valley, along the Rio Grande in both New Mexico and Texas. This wit is almost always expressed with a grin - as if the audience had never heard it before.
With the exception of a few subtropical locations - such as Los Angeles, Honolulu, Miami - weather is a fickle, unstable phenomenon. If you don’t believe me, just wait 15 minutes.
Last week snow covered the city like Christmas in Alaska. Two days later it was mid-March in Billings. Much of the change occurred within an hour or so.
Montana’s weather may not change with Old Faithful’s dependability, but it can reach some wicked extremes. In 1972 the mercury rose to 103 degrees in Loma – from a brutal minus 53 degrees Fahrenheit to a balmy 49 plus. This did not happen in 15 minutes, but the transformation took less than 24 hours and was a world record.
Test the meteorology savvy of your Montana-born friends and neighbors. On the next sunny day, when the streets are dry and green grass stirs in the breeze, you will hear someone say, “Looks like spring is here.” Bet that fool $5 that it will snow again. Odds are he/she will take the bet. Odds are overwhelming that you will win.
Next, when you collect your fiver, bet that it will snow yet again. You should be $25 ahead by the first of May.
Fairfield set a national record on Dec. 14, 1924, when the temperature dropped 84 degrees from 63 degrees Fahrenheit at noon to minus 21 degrees at midnight. This, too, was a world record – the greatest 12-hour temperature change in the United States.
The coldest temperature on record in the lower 48 states made the air crackle at 70 below zero over Rogers Pass north of Helena on Jan. 20, 1954.
That’s right. Rogers Pass. My pass.
Wyoming envied our record. Tried to steal it.
The Cowboy State’s minions scouted the Tetons for a high altitude basin, one of those granite-walled holes where frozen air puddles and mercury freezes. They bet their money on a hanging canyon, wired it to radio reports back to civilization.
The plot failed. Mother nature did not cooperate. She always liked Montana best.
The warmest temperature ever recorded in Montana was 117 degrees at Glendive on July 20, 1893, and at Medicine Lake, on July 5, 1937.
False springs bloom with the arrival of every Chinook, the wind Indians called “snow eater“ that descends from the mountains to devour snow blanketing the plains.
But the snows return. We collect our $5 and place new bets.
True spring is an accumulation of syndromes that eventually overwhelm winter. Mountain bluebirds quit the pinyon pine groves of New Mexico to settle in small flocks amid Montana’s big sage prairies. In a few weeks they will pair off and slip away to pine or fir groves to nest and raise their broods.
Male chickadees challenge rivals with a two-note territorial call that Native Americans recognize as the springtime call. Saffron sage violets bloom along the fringes where sagebrush thickets meet ponderosa stands. White sand and sego lilies appear where snow has disappeared.
Wood warblers, both yellow and yellow rumped, arrive from central Mexico to sweeten the air with Spanish accents.
Somewhere near the end of this succession I will bet one last time on late snow.