Rainy day
HANNAH POTES, Gazette Staff

Cooler, wetter weather finally appears to be en route to Montana.

Forecasters expect a major "pattern change" to arrive in the state later this week, bringing a drop in temperatures and some much-needed rainfall as Eastern Montana struggles under the worst drought conditions in the country.

Today's temperatures are predicted to peak at or near 90 degrees in Billings, according to the National Weather Service. Tuesday's expected high of 93 degrees at the Billings Logan International Airport would tie the weather station's record for Sept. 12, set in 2015.

Smoke is also expected to continue drifting into the region as fires burn in Montana's mountainous areas and in states farther west.

But beginning Thursday, a low-pressure system should begin sweeping through Montana. High temperatures in the 50s and 60s are expected through Saturday in Billings, along with up to 1.5 inches of rain in portions of the region during that three-day period.

"At this point, it looks like a better chance for higher rain totals are west and northwest of Billings," Shawn Palmquist, a meteorologist with the Weather Service's Billings office, said Monday morning. But the entire region — including the drought-ravaged northeast portion of the state — should see some precipitation, he added.

Mountain snow is also possible in some high-elevation areas, Palmquist said.

"It's tough to say if this is a true seasonal shift to more of a fall-like pattern," he continued. "At some point, the calendar helps us out as well. Now that we're getting into September, with shorter days (and) longer nights, we are seeing average high temperatures drop somewhat."

While any precipitation would be welcome in Eastern Montana, Palmquist noted that the system isn't going to significantly change the situation on the ground.

More than a quarter of the state is currently experiencing what the U.S. Drought Monitor terms an "exceptional drought" — its most severe classification. In Billings, just 0.3 inches of rain have fallen since the beginning of July, compared with a historic average of 2.46 inches. During the same period, Glasgow registered just shy of one inch, well below the 3.34 inches the city typically receives.

And Palmquist noted that a long-awaited "season-ending" event to put the brakes on the 2017 fire season is unlikely in the immediate future.

"Given the drought conditions that we have across the state, it would take probably a few of these types of systems," he said.

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General assignment reporter for the Billings Gazette.