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The coming of spring is always an event to celebrate, this year more than most. The last vestiges of winter’s snow have disappeared from the valley floor, and recent temperatures in the 60s and 70s have initiated green-up. Perhaps more importantly, the weather beckons us outside, where fresh air and the songs of nesting birds help divert our attention away from the events of the day.

Temperatures during both March and April ran about four degrees cooler than average on the Montana State University campus. At the airport near Belgrade, record low maximum temperatures occurred on one day each month, including April 12 when the high was only 28. On the flip side, during a brief warm spell the mercury reached 65 back on March 6, a record high.

Over the past three months, the average high temperature at MSU ran about five degrees cooler than climatology. Curiously, this is the third consecutive year with very chilly highs during the February-April period.

Precipitation was close to average across the valley during March, but moisture was scarce last month, with both local weather stations reporting deficits of roughly an inch. This is a bit of a concern, as April is the first month of the “wet season” in the Gallatin Valley. For the water year, the airport now shows a deficit of an inch and one-third, while at MSU the shortfall is nearly an inch.

Seasonal snowfall at MSU stands at 99 inches, more than a foot above the standard and virtually the same as last winter.

Snowfall has been incredibly streaky in recent years. The 1999-2000 season began a string of six consecutive below-average winters, followed immediately by six above-average seasons beginning with 2005-2006. Another six-year “drought” occurred from 2011-2012 through the 2016-2017 season, but was terminated abruptly by the 143 inches that fell during the winter of 2017-2018. The current streak of above-average seasons stands at three.

Venus has put on a show as the “evening star” for the past few months, but its reign is ending. Each day it stands lower in the sky, and by the last week in May it will succumb to the sun’s glare. If you have an unobstructed view to the west-northwest, mark your calendar for May 21, when Mercury joins Venus low on the horizon.

Early risers may have noticed Jupiter and Saturn low in the southern sky before dawn. Later in the month they’ll be joined by Mars, farther to the east.

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

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