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Most summers seem to fly past way too quickly.

One day you're looking ahead to Memorial Day and then suddenly Labor Day is a receding memory and you're staring down the barrel of another Montana winter.

Not this year. Here we are in mid-July and it's beginning to seem like summer has been with us for years.

Since June 2, when the National Weather Service station on the West End of Billings recorded a temperature of 86, and ending Friday, we'd had 27 days with a high temperature above 85, 18 days of temperatures at 90 or higher, and three days of triple-digit heat.

Smoke in the air -- and the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of acres were burning up not too far away -- have contributed to the feeling that the oppressive heat has been with us for a long, long time.

Was it only two weeks ago that I stood on the shoulder of Highway 212 a few miles from Lame Deer and felt the hot wind from an immense wall of pine-fed flame slap me in the face? It seems like months.

What we do around here to beat the heat, in addition to deploying fans, air conditioning and cold drinks, is talk about how bad it is elsewhere.

Comparison shopping

You should be in New Orleans or Mississippi, somebody will say. Air so thick you can cut it. Arizona? It's dry heat, sure, but 115 degrees is still 115 degrees, and when the landscape is basically a gravel pit as far as the eye can see, there's no relief.

Not to mention the blast furnace of Afghanistan and those poor soldiers with body armor and 100 pounds of gear.

Lorna Thackeray, our expert on history and weather here at The Gazette, recently pointed out that Montana still ranks as the No. 1 extreme weather state. We earned that distinction because the record high was 117 at Medicine Lake in the summer of 1937 and the record low was minus 70 at Rogers Pass in the winter of 1954.

Wikipedia tells me that Rogers Pass is also "the location of the coldest temperature ever recorded in the United States outside of Alaska."

That's odd, since the pass is only 5,610 high. Maybe if we had a weather station on top of Granite Peak...

I don't know what out-of-staters make of our reputation for extreme weather. They must think we're all incredibly hardy, or incredibly stupid.

Let them think so. I happen to believe that Montana, or at any rate Billings, far from being extreme, is close to perfect in terms of climate and conditions. And I'm not just saying this to tide myself over during this heat wave.

The Goldilocks climate

It really is a dry heat, damn it, and over time we really don't get that many days of extreme heat. Plus, there are interludes of relief no matter how hot it gets. Medicine Lake hit 117 on July 5, 1937. In Billings this year, the high on July 5 was 76 degrees, the coolest day in two weeks.

We also have the Yellowstone River. If the Yellowstone gets too warm, you can drive 45 minutes to the Stillwater River and jump in, if you can stand the cold. Go another 45 minutes and you might find snow.

Did I mention the relative scarcity of mosquitoes? That is a blessing you can appreciate only if you've ever spent time in a place where the skeeters (and gnats and horse flies) form themselves into vast armies of remorseless tormentors.

Winter here can be tough, but it's not like most of us city slickers ever pay more tribute to the season than shoveling our walks or scraping our windshields. And many winters, like the last one, hardly bother to show up.

That leaves fall and spring. Even if all our summers were as hot as this July and all our winters brutally cold, wouldn't we gladly endure them for the chance to live here in May and October?

Have I convinced anybody that this heat isn't so bad? Have I convinced myself? No matter. October will be here soon enough.





I cover the city of Billings.