If you visited Montana for the first time this week you might be inclined to think, “The winters here aren’t so bad,” before taking a stroll around town wearing a T-shirt and no jacket.
A streak of balmy weather led to, for the second day in a row, record-high temperatures in cities around southern and eastern Montana on Thursday.
Billings set a new Jan. 5 record high of 64 degrees, breaking the old one of 57 set in 1958, according to the National Weather Service’s Billings office.
The average high for the day is 32 degrees.
“A part of it was a front moving into the area caused the big jump in temperatures today,” said Aaron Gilstad, a meteorologist with the NWS in Billings. “We’ve had a number of things, down slope flow off the mountains and with no snow cover, we don’t have that cool air at the surface already in place.”
Miles City broke a 54-year-old record high of 50 when it hit 63 degrees on Thursday. Farther north, Glasgow got to 56, breaking the old record by 3 degrees. Glendive, much like Miles City, obliterated its old high of 50 degrees when it reached 63 on Thursday.
State highs of 66 degrees were recorded in Hardin and at an unofficial recording station in Billings, according to the weather service.
Gilstad said consistently gusty winds throughout the day also contributed to the higher temperatures, especially because of the lack of ground snow cover.
“It’s easier for the ground to warm up; it’s easier for the air to warm up,” he said.
But the wind — a high gust of 44 mph was recorded in Billings, the NWS said, while Livingston clocked in at 66 — did more than warm things up.
Winds caused a controlled burn near Shepherd on Thursday to flare up and burn as many as eight acres of pasture.
The Shepherd Volunteer Fire Department responded after the out-of-control burn was reported between Dawson Drive and Hofferber Road Thursday afternoon.
Firefighter Lisa Swanson, the fire’s incident commander, said strong winds moved the fire quickly and pushed it to within a few dozen yards of several homes and outbuildings.
“It was moving very fast,” she said. “You’d have to run with a hose to keep up as fast as that fire line was moving.”
It burned between five and eight acres. Firefighters from Shepherd and Worden spent much of the afternoon mopping up hotspots and finished up by about 4:45 p.m.
East of Billings, a quick-moving grass fire burned several acres on Thursday north of Joliet in the afternoon before Carbon County crews managed to contain it.
Things are expected to cool down a bit beginning Friday, Gilstad said, with daily highs in the region expected to be in the mid 40s.
“We’ve got a cold front coming down tonight and through most of the area right now but it hasn’t really cooled things off yet,” he said. “We do have some cooler temperatures expected the next couple of days. Basically, in part from behind this cold front, we’re going to keep some northerly flow and some cool air coming in.”
Saturday will likely be the coolest, with expected highs in the mid 30s to low 40s, before it begins to warm up again on Sunday and Monday.