Published November 1, 2004 | November 2004 issue
If it's not fire, it's rain. This summer, precipitation returned to large swaths of Montana, drastically reducing the threat of wildfires that devastated forests and pasturelands in 2003. But a wet, cool August delayed the development of durum wheat, barley, potatoes and other crops, increasing the risk of frost damage. And mountain resorts lost business as hikers packed up their tents and went home.
The change in the weather doesn't necessarily mean that Montana's long-standing drought is over, however. Some climatologists believe that the dry spell that has parched fields, drained wells and sparked wildfires throughout the West since 1995 is part of a larger climate cycle that desiccates the region roughly every 30 years. The average length of the cycle is 23 years. So arid soil conditions—and happier campers—may return next summer.