Discover Montana’s Coldest January on Record

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: January 26, 2023
© Evan Lovely / Flickr – License / Original
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At first thought, Montana shouldn’t be as cold, at least not colder than some Canadian regions, right? However, the state is widely known to have dramatic drops and spikes in temperatures, sometimes over the course of a single day.

These drastic changes often happen because of the cold continental air coming from southern Canada, which may cause a significant drop over 24 hours. Moreover, the chinooks, meaning warm westerly winds, sometimes quickly warm the state up, and the temperatures suddenly rise to 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you’ve come here to find out what the lowest temperature and coldest January ever recorded in Montana are, keep reading because we’ll tell you some amazing facts about these!

What Climate Does Montana Have?

Granite Peak Montana
Montana features a semi-arid, continental climate.

©jfisher2167 / CC BY 2.0 – License

Montana is located below the 45th parallel to the 49th parallel, meaning below the circle of latitude located between 45 and 49 degrees north of the equator. The western part of the state consists of an alternation between mountains and valleys, while the eastern part is covered in badlands and plains broken by isolated mountain ranges and hills.

Generally speaking, Montana features a semi-arid, continental climate. The fact that the state has such a diverse geography significantly affects the temperatures throughout the state. On average, the summer temperature is around 84.5 degrees Fahrenheit, while it drops to 28 degrees Fahrenheit during winter.

However, if we were to discuss the weather in different regions, we’d observe that these temperatures aren’t very accurate, which can also be proven through numerous weather statements. For example, the temperature goes much beyond 84.5 degrees in summer in regions above 4,000 feet, while snow is a constant in the mountainous areas in western and central Montana. Besides, temperatures drop significantly during cold nights, while the winds are known to warm up the state, especially in the east of the mountains.

However, even though Montana has historically experienced extremely cold winters, evidence shows that its climate has become warmer in the last few years.

Montana’s Coldest January on Record

Snow in Montana
Montana registered its coldest January on record in 1954.

©Galyna Andrushko/

Montana registered its coldest January on record in 1954. People reported that it had been snowing for a week, and the weather was not improving. The temperatures were well below freezing point.

However, on the 19th of January, it seemed that the nightmare was over. The snow and wind stopped, and the sun appeared as soon as the sky cleared up. Unfortunately, as it sometimes happens with snow storms, this was only a warning of what would happen next. So the next day, on the 20th of January, the temperatures suddenly dropped again, registering the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state, which we’ll discuss further.

What is the Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded in Montana?

Big Sky resort in Montana.
Studies show that the coldest temperature ever recorded in Montana was -70 degrees Fahrenheit.


Studies show that the coldest temperature ever recorded in Montana was -70 degrees Fahrenheit. The climatic event was noticed only on February 3 by Richard A. Dightman. It was observed at a mining camp near the Rogers Pass weather station close to Helena. The climatologist sent the minimum thermometer and his personal alcohol thermometer to Washington for evaluation. They were thoroughly checked in the laboratory, and it was demonstrated that it had indeed been -70 degrees outside.

However, scientists suggest that this isn’t something that could happen on all of the state’s territory. This extreme temperature was favored by the station’s location and the cold, steady temperatures before the 20th of January. The site was at a high elevation, and besides this, it was located in a saucer-shaped depression, further enhancing the cold weather. During the prior week, the snow depth increased to 66 inches, and the wind had stopped, thus providing perfect conditions for strong cooling.

This can be further proven by the fact that populated areas didn’t register such low temperatures. That same night, there were -36 degrees in Helena, -43 degrees in Havre, -14 degrees in Missoula, and -34 degrees in Billings.

What’s the Coldest City in Montana?

Since the state’s geography is so diverse and the temperatures often drastically fluctuate, it would be impossible to say which Montana city is the coldest. Some sources list West Yellowstone as the coldest.

It’s a city in Gallatin County featuring a subarctic climate with very cold winters and warm summers. The town is covered in snow from late autumn almost until summer, and the average January temperature is 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The previous all-time lowest temperature of -66 degrees Fahrenheit was, in fact, recorded in West Yellowstone. With such a harsh climate, the town hosts only 1,272 people, according to the 2020 census.

What Animals and Plants Live in Montana?

Even though Montana’s climate is somewhat difficult to adapt to, the state is home to hundreds of animals and plants.

Here are some plants growing in Montana:

  • Ponderosa pine
  • Spruce
  • Red Cedar
  • Alder
  • Daisies
  • Lilies
  • Orchids
  • Sagebrush
  • Cactus
  • Lichens.

In terms of fauna, Montana hosts the following:

Many are federally endangered or threatened, which is why the state has many protected lands. Moreover, the largest grizzly population in the lower 48 states is in Montana.

The plants and animals native to the state have been growing there for hundreds of years, so they have naturally adapted to the unsteady weather, while others choose to migrate during winter. Surprisingly, not only birds leave the state for a warmer climate. Evidence shows that reptiles, mammals, fish, amphibians, and insects have exhibited this behavior too.

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Montana Snowbowl
Montana Snowbowl
© Evan Lovely / Flickr – License / Original

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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

When was the coldest January in Montana?

Montana registered its coldest January on record in 1954. People reported that it had been snowing for a week, and the weather was not improving.

What was the coldest recorded temperature in Montana?

Studies show that the coldest temperature ever recorded in Montana was -70 degrees Fahrenheit.

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