While western Montana struggles with wildfire smoke pollution and multiple large fires, Eastern Montana is drying-up at a surprising rate. Meteorologist Richard Heim with the National Centers for Environmental Information explains.

"As of April this year, the Palmer Drought Index was at a +1.58, which is a mild, moist spell, Heim said. "It was really not even in drought conditions at all at that time, but the dryness, and especially the heat of the last four months has caused the Palmer Drought Index to get really negative really fast, down to -4.87 in August. This is an extraordinary swing, it is not unprecedented, but it is really, quite rare."

The Drought Index dropped from a positive number to The drought is so rare, in fact, there are only five years that are similarly bad in recorded history, and Heim says the drought for many of those years took much more time to develop.

"The Palmer Hydrological drought index goes back to the 1900s, we have about 118 years or so of records for this particular index. Looking at some of these numbers, it has been this low or lower in this part of the state [north east] for 1988, 1985, 1980 and in the 1930s."

While the drought level in most of Eastern Montana is listed as either exceptional or extreme, the drought in most of western Montana is less intense. The drought level for most of Missoula County for example is simply listed as “moderate.”

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