July was one of the hottest and driest on record for Billings and elsewhere in Eastern Montana, intensifying extreme drought conditions that have gripped much of the region this summer.
In July, Miles City recorded only trace amounts of precipitation throughout the entire month, tying with 1988 as the driest July on record. In Glasgow, year-to-date precipitation is less than half of the average, and is the lowest seen in 110 years.
"One of the problems we have this year is you need moisture to have moisture," Glasgow-based meteorologist Tanja Fransen said. "In a dry year without the moisture, your clouds are higher up, so what rain does fall has to fall a lot farther to hit the ground."
In its weekly report released July 27, the U.S. Drought Monitor classified nearly 12 percent of Montana as under "exceptional" drought conditions — the service's most extreme grade for drought. That area, stretching across the northeast portion of the state, jumped from just 1.5 percent of the state's land area that met those criteria one week earlier.
"Generally, that would be a kind of one-in-a-hundred-year event," said David Miskus, a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is one of the 12 authors for Drought Monitor.
The last time any part of the state reached "exceptional drought" was in 2005.
The National Weather Service's weather station at Billings Logan International Airport recorded the fourth-hottest July since record-keeping began in 1934. At 78.3 degrees, it tied with July 2012 and was 5.5 degrees above the typical monthly average.
Last month's high temperatures averaged 93.1 degrees, or 6.3 degrees higher than the norm.
The 0.13 inches of rain that fell in Billings last month was also well below the average of 1.32 inches, marking the sixth-driest July for the city.
While the region's agricultural industry has been hit hard by the lack of rainfall this summer, Miskus noted that the "flash drought" does not yet carry long-term impacts like lowered reservoirs, which require a longer period of sustained rainfall to recover.
But Fransen said even the amount of rain needed to produce moist conditions to help seed additional rains appears unlikely in the near future.
"We do need to see that moisture this fall, and unfortunately, if you look at climate prediction outlooks, they're not favorable in that regard," she said. "I'm personally concerned this might be an issue yet next year for us."