All over Montana, the first week in January has produced temperatures 10 degrees or higher — sometimes much higher — than normal.
As of Sunday, the average temperature in Billings was 11.7 degrees above normal. At Glasgow, the mean for the month is 18.6 degrees above normal.
Even around the mountains, where January has conformed more to seasonal expectations, temperatures have been warmer than average. Gardiner, with a mean temperature of 30.1 degrees, was 5.1 degrees warmer than normal in the first eight days of the month.
Cooke City, with a mean January temperature of 18, was 3.2 degrees warmer than average. Red Lodge, which has benefited most from this strange winter season, had a mean temperature of 33.4 degrees, or 8.6 degrees warmer than normal.
Eastern Montana cities put up some impressive temperature numbers in the first eight days of the month. Miles City’s average was 15 degrees above normal; Baker, 14 degrees above normal; Jordan, 16.6 degrees warmer; Wolf Point, 17.9 degrees warmer; Roundup, 10.4 degrees warmer; and Hardin, 12.5 degrees warmer.
Warmth covered nearly every corner of the state. Bozeman’s mean temperature was 7.9 degrees warmer than normal, while Havre was 16.1 degrees warmer. Great Falls was 13.9 degrees warmer; Helena, 13 degrees, and Lewistown, 11.7 degrees.
Billings saw a record high of 64 on Jan. 5, helping to produce the ninth-warmest first week in January in 78 years of record keeping. The string of unseasonably high temperatures continued Monday, when the unofficial high at 4 p.m. was 50 degrees.
“Every day but the 1st, which was about normal, had above-normal temperatures,” said Tom Frieders, warnings coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Billings. “On the 5th, the high was 27 degrees higher than average.”
Billings has had no measurable precipitation so far in January. Frieders said that has happened in the Jan. 1-8 period only six times previously.
“But January is typically our driest month,” he said.
Some precipitation and colder temperatures are forecast for Tuesday, but it probably won’t amount to much, Frieders said. The best chance for snow is for north-facing slopes of the mountains, including Red Lodge. Once the system passes, the forecast calls for another rebound to above-average temperatures.
Frieders said there are some indications of a change in the weather pattern within the next week to 10 days, but it’s too early to tell with accuracy.
Brian Domonkos, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, wouldn’t mind seeing a transition to the stormier, wetter year that a La Niña usually brings to Montana.
Statewide, snowpack is about 80 percent of normal for this time of year. And it’s only that high because snowpack in Wyoming’s mountains has put lower Yellowstone tributaries over the top. The lower Yellowstone, the stretch between Custer and its confluence with the Missouri, has 95 percent of its normal snowpack for the season. Two of its tributaries have above-normal snowpack. The Tongue has 123 percent of its normal snowpack and the Powder 101 percent of its normal.
Snow is also plentiful is the Red Lodge area. Snowpack in the Rock Creek Basin is 125 percent of average, Domonkos said.
But snowpack in the Flathead Basin is 66 percent of average. The Madison has 68 percent and the Jefferson, Missouri Headwaters and Saint Mary-Milk basins have just 69 percent of normal snowpack for the season.
The upper Yellowstone Basin, which includes Billings, has 82 percent of normal snowpack.
Domonkos said it’s not time to worry yet. About half of winter is gone, he said, but the second half has a lot of potential. In 2011, the last half of winter produced 170 percent of normal snowpack.
“We only need 120 percent this year to bring things back to normal,” he said.