Temperatures near 100 degrees.
Wind storms gusting up to 80 miles per hour.
Rain. Flooding. Hail.
Those are just some of the signs of a wild August when it came to weather in eastern Montana and southwestern North Dakota and have damaged some of the crops in the area.
By comparison, September will be quieter as the region moves into a cooler fall pattern, according to National Weather Service meteorologists in Bismarck and Billings.
The area was already experiencing drought conditions going into the summer, but August was almost a continuing cycle of extreme weather battering the region.
According to Todd Chambers, a meteorologist with the Billings office of the National Weather Service, the eastern region of the state along with the western part of North Dakota is moving into a cooler fall weather pattern.
“You had some thunderstorms in the area, especially at the start of August. That is not unusual. It is normal to have several days of thunderstorms, some of those being strong. The conditions became dryer as they go through the month (August) into September. The thunderstorms and the hail wasn’t terribly different this year.
“The hot temperatures that we have seen … to some extent Baker has been shielded a little bit,” Chambers said Friday. “Without having as much west wind they would normally have in August, we had more east, southeast winds which helped to bring some more moisture in there to moderate temperatures a little bit. We get those big swings... where we go from temperatures in the upper 90s and 100 (degrees) down into the 30s … that is indicative of having dry air. That dry air fluctuates the temperature a lot more than if you have that moisture from the plains available,” he said.
“On Aug. 31, the temperature dropped down to 38 degrees for a low temperature. That followed on the heels of a high temperature of 90 degrees on the 29th. You have got a cold front that dropped through there and brought some Canadian air for a day or two,” he said.
“As far as that being unusual to have a late summer cold front, that is not unusual. The big deal is we had a ridge of high pressure over the western United States and that ridge of high pressure has kind of tilted the flow down over eastern Montana and into the Great Plains a little more north. That allowed a few of those cold fronts to work through.... at the same time, when that ridge flops over a little bit further east, that is when you get those really hot, dry temperatures and dry conditions,” he said, noting the red flag conditions predicted for Sept. 5 in the region.
In Baker, that meant the humidity would drop down to single digits or low teens over the weekend, he explained.
But, on the heels of that hot Saturday, the region would be hit by a strong cold front Sunday night. “The temperatures would become much below normal for the next week,” Chambers said.
“As we are getting into this fall transition period, you are going to see those swings from very hot to much below normal more often until you will get into a more stable pattern later in the fall,” he said. The more stabilized weather will be as October comes closer.”That’s when we start pushing that ridge down and get the jet stream over us. That will smooth things out for us as far as those really big temperature swings,” he said.
The recent strong winds as September started were unusual, according to Chambers. “That was a once in 20-year type wind event for us. That is not something that normally occurs, especially when you are seeing those kind of winds with that kind of hot temperatures. We were dealing with wind gusts going up to 50-60 miles per hour and temperatures in the 90s.... that was an unusual pattern for us. That was an exceptional day. It it was one of those days that doesn’t come around very often.”
Red Flag warnings
The recent fire in Jordan, a community north of Miles City, was impacted by the high wind event and red flag warnings, the meteorologist added.
“Those red flag warnings are when weather conditions are critical so that if a fire does get started, it can spread out of control very easily. That is what we had a couple of days ago,” he noted when a fire forced the evacuation of Jordan and one neighboring community.
“With hot, dry and windy conditions, everybody should be exceptionally careful with anything concerning fire – things like welding outside, driving through tall grass. A hot catalytic converter can start a fire driving through grass. There should be no outside burning should be attempted when there is a red flag warning because it can get away from you very quickly,” he said.
“We are hoping to get a lot of water down (Monday and Tuesday) to ease up the dangerous fire conditions that we have had over the last couple of weeks,” he exlained.
The Billings office was predicting a light rain over several days early in the week, starting on Labor Day.
“The cool temperatures will persist,” Chambers added.
According to Zachary Hargrove, a meteorologist in the Bismarck office of the NWS, the weather in the region for the past month wasn’t too far from normal.
“Usually when we get the thunderstorms in the summer, they usually put the hail and the heavy rain down. They had flooding problems like in the James River Valley for a couple of these systems.
“For at least the last month, the heat has been pretty normal. We usually hit 100 degrees here in Bismarck two of three times in the summer. We only hit it once this summer, but we were in the 90s quite a bit,” he said.
“There has been some pretty nasty weather down in the southwest this summer,” he added.
“That is our biggest loss every year is the thunderstorms causing crop damage. It don’t take a lot of wind to damage them (crops) either,” Hargrove said.
“Right now, we are transitioning into what we normally expect for the fall.
“The pattern is going to really cool down into the 50s,” he said, noting that the hot Saturday over the Labor Day weekend would probably be the last sign of summertime heat for the state.
“With that, the thunderstorm chances will start diminishing.... they’ll be less and less frequent, he added.