Spring is here in Missoula and we can see summer on the horizon.
One of the national outdoor magazines once named Missoula one of the top places to live in the U.S. and their main reason was because of our perfect summers. Word got around locally and we all had a good laugh. Perfect? First of all, winter leaks into spring here, and sometimes into summer. A typical spring day here often includes sunshine, rain, hail, snow and graupel. Yeah, that's all in one day. Night time temperatures sometimes drop below freezing well past the middle of May. We've had snowstorms in June that broke tree branches and downed power lines. Winter, or the memory of it, lingers late here. The high mountain passes and trails nearby often are blocked by snow until July. Our summers may be great, but they often start pretty late.
When summer does arrive, the great weather is often short lived. You see, we have five seasons here, not four: fall, winter, spring, summer, and fire season. Once the snow melts, the hills dry out pretty fast here. Fire season can start any time after that. Most people in Missoula enjoy some kind of outdoor recreation. In fact, that's why a lot of us live in a state with low pay and few jobs, but everyone knows that when summer hits, you'd better enjoy it before the state bursts into flames. Usually July is pretty dependable, but August is generally fire season. Whether fires are in Western Montana or over the border in Idaho, smoke travels east and settles in the Missoula Valley. visibility can be low, and the air smells like a camp fire. We have Stage One air alerts where older people and those with respiratory problems are encouraged to stay inside. Visibility is limited in the valley and the mountains around us disappear in the smoke. We see things through a gray screen, and little flecks of ash collect on the cars. The bad air gets trapped in the valley and the situation can drag on for weeks, or longer. As fires spread in nearby forests, manpower and resources are stretched to the limits. Daytime temperatures approach one hundred degrees and we can go weeks without a drop of rain. Forests get hotter and drier, and fire danger gets to dangerous levels. Many trails and campsites are closed for fear of fires, and we've had summers where all recreation in nearby forests has been banned. Our perfect summer turns into a smoky nightmare as we wait for the snow and cold fall rains to dampen the fires and push the bad air out of the valley. When it finally happens, fire season is over, but so is summer.
So, maybe we have perfect summers. A lot of us enjoy it and wouldn't trade it for anything. In fact, a lot of people in Missoula say that Summer is their very favorite month.