Montana, United States

About Montana

Montana is located in the Western United States. The western third of the state contains numerous mountain ranges; other island ranges are found in the central third of the state, for a total of 77 named ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The state ranks fourth in area, but 44th in population, and therefore has the third lowest population density in the United States. The economy is primarily based on ranching, wheat farming, oil and coal in the east; lumber, tourism, and hard rock mining in the west. Millions of tourists annually visit Glacier National Park, the Battle of Little Bighorn site, and three of the five entrances to Yellowstone National Park. Montana is bordered by the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan on the north, Idaho on the west, Wyoming on the south and North Dakota and South Dakota on the east.

Montana Tourism and Recreation

Many tourists seek out the former gold rush camps, ghost towns, and dude ranches. Scenic wonders include all of Glacier National Park, covering 1,013,595 acres, which is the US portion of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park; part of Yellowstone National Park, which also extends into Idaho and Wyoming; and Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area.

Montana Climate

The Continental Divide and great differences in elevation have a marked influence on the temperature distribution within the state. Elevation ranges from about 1,800 feet above sea level where the Kootenai River enters Idaho, to 12,850 feet at the summit of Granite Peak, just north of Yellowstone Park. Perhaps the most important and dramatic effect that the Continental Divide has on the climate is its shielding of the Columbia Basin portion of the state from most of the winter cold waves that affect central and eastern Montana each year. The climate of eastern Montana is classified as continental, while that west of the Divide is a modified North Pacific Coast type.

On the west side of the Divide, winters are not so cold, summers are usually cooler, and winds are generally lighter than on the east side. The lack of wind and the narrow, deep valleys on the west side result in cool nights during the summer.

Mean precipitation amounts for selected weather stations in Montana are shown in Table 1. The mountainous country along both sides of the Continental Divide supply enough orographic lift to make this divide area the wettest part of the state. Some of the state's driest areas are located in sheltered mountain valleys, because of the rain-shadow effects on the leeside of some ranges. Annual precipitation in the state varies from an average of 9.07 inches per year at Dillon airport, to about 105 inches at Grinnell Glacier. The wet season occurs during late spring and early summer, except in narrow strips along the Bitterroot Mountains and the Continental Divide, where a large portion of the precipitation occurs during the winter months. In nearly all areas, almost half of the yearly precipitation falls during three months--May through July. Winter precipitation is usually in the form of snow.

In general, the western and south-central mountain areas experience more cloudiness and correspondingly less sunshine, than the eastern slopes and plains section. Valley fog and low clouds often form during fall and winter in western Montana valleys. This phenomenon occurs in the Clark Fork of the Columbia, Kootenai and Flathead Valleys several times each season and can persist for several days while surrounding mountain ridges and passes are bright and clear. Mountains, however, are usually more covered with clouds than are valleys. Cloudy weather is most frequent during the period from late fall until early spring. Seasonal difference in cloudiness is less east of the Continental Divide.

Montana Transportaion

Railroads have been an important method of transportation in Montana since the 1880s. Historically, the state was traversed by the main lines of three east-west transcontinental routes: the Milwaukee Road, the Great Northern, and the Northern Pacific. Today, the BNSF Railway is the state's largest railroad, its main transcontinental route incorporating the former Great Northern main line across the state. Montana RailLink, a privately-held Class II railroad, operates former Northern Pacific trackage in western Montana.

Montana's three largest commercial airports serve Bozeman, Billings, and Missoula; smaller airports at Great Falls International Airport, Kalispell, Helena, and Butte also serve multiple commercial carriers. Eight smaller communities have airports designated for commercial service under the Essential Air Service program.

Montana's only north-south Interstate Highway is Interstate 15. Other major north-south highways include U.S. Routes 87, 89, 93 and 191. Interstate 25 terminates into I – 90 just south of the Montana border in Wyoming.