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On the heels of unusually benign weather for most of December and January, conditions across the Gallatin Valley finally turned more winter-like in February. Even so, we’ve yet to experience a prolonged, multi-day blast of Arctic air this season.

Preliminary reports from the Montana State University campus weather station suggest that almost 30 inches of snow fell last month in Bozeman, which would be a new record for February. The old record? It was a bit over 29 inches, set last year. (Recall that the MSU gym roofs collapsed in early March 2019.)

Despite seeing only about 9 inches of snow during December and January combined, the seasonal total at MSU now stands almost a foot and a half above average, thanks to early season dumps back in October and November.

The snow provided needed moisture, to the tune of 1.8 inches. That ranks as the fourth wettest of 126 February totals at MSU.

Daytime highs ran about 3 degrees colder than average at MSU during February, but nighttime lows were right in line with climatology. The odd thing this year has been the absence of extremes.

The coldest maximum temperature so far this winter was a relatively balmy 13 degrees on Nov. 30. That was three months ago! For comparison, in February 2019, daytime highs were in the single-digits above or below zero on 11 days.

At the airport near Belgrade, the temperature has dropped to -10 or less on only three occasions, twice at the end of October, and most recently on Dec. 1. We appear to have dodged an icy bullet this year.

This is an interesting time on the sun. Solar activity, in the form of sunspots, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, etc., is nearing the minimum of its long-established 11-year cycle. According to spaceweather.com, the sun had no sunspots on 221 days during 2018, on 281 days in 2019, and on 27 days during February.

NOAA forecasters expect activity to ramp up later this year, building toward the next peak sometime in 2025.

Activity on the sun has impacts in space as well as in our atmosphere. Solar storms can damage satellite electronics and pose dangers to astronauts venturing outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic field (on a mission to Mars, for instance). On Earth, solar storms affect some forms of radio communications, and in extreme cases may threaten electrical power grids.

Perhaps the most visible effect of solar disturbances is the aurora. Though they are possible at any time, auroras tend to be more frequent during the peak of the 11-year cycle.

Greg Ainsworth keeps an eye on local weather and climate. Contact him at cowpack92@gmail.com.

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