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Where’s all the moisture? The first two months of the rainy season have been a bust across southwest Montana, which adds some uncertainty to the water situation as we head into the summer.

At the airport near Belgrade, the instruments measured only 0.85 inches during May, which ranks as the third driest in 80 years. Couple that with the mere three-quarters of an inch that fell during April, and the rainy season so far is the second driest in the books.

The gauge on the Montana State University campus registered about twice as much precipitation as the airport during May, but that was still 1.4 inches below average. That puts the two-month deficit in Bozeman at a whopping 2.5 inches, the driest since 2001.

Since the beginning of the water year on Oct. 1, moisture totals at the airport and MSU lag the averages by 2.9 inches and 2.3 inches, respectively.

Recent measurements of water content in the mountain snowpack also are of concern. USDA/NRCS analyses over the weekend show the Bitterroot basin is driest at only 55% of its median value for this time of year, followed by the Jefferson at 66% and Madison at 75%. Fortunately, the Gallatin, Upper Yellowstone, and Missouri Mainstem basins are in better shape, right at seasonal standards.

The U.S. Drought Monitor now shows “abnormally dry” conditions in a swath across parts of southcentral and southwest Montana, as well the northeast corner of the state. The situation in central Beaverhead and west-central Madison counties has deteriorated even further, to the “moderate drought” category.

Severe or extreme drought conditions currently exist across a large portion of the western U.S. The areas hit hardest are southwest and northcentral Oregon, northern California, and the southern Rockies, but impacts also have been felt in northern parts of Nevada and Utah, the Four Corners, as well as the east slopes of the Cascades.

The latest precipitation outlooks for the summer from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center aren’t particularly optimistic. They suggest increased chances of below-average rainfall across the northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest. In addition, CPC’s temperature outlooks suggest an increased likelihood of hotter-than-average readings across the entire western U.S.

Greg Ainsworth keeps an eye on local weather and climate. Contact him at

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