Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why Weather?

Talking about the weather is a traditional staple of small talk, but in Montana, it is a central topic of conversation. There are probably several reasons for this.
  • Montana is an agricultural state and most of our crops depend on moisture from snowpack or rain. Even in Bozeman, which farmers and ranchers would say isn't very rural any more, agricultural concerns are still recognized - especially by all the people who care about local food. So when the summer is long and dry, town people still note that the crops are hard hit by the lack of rain; in the winter, a good snowpack leads to plenty of irrigation water next summer.
  • A good snowpack also makes for better winter recreation, whether you ski downhill or crosscountry, snowshoe, or ride a snowmobile. Even many summer recreations depend on good snowpack, or at least plentiful spring rains: water skiing, rafting, and the local economic mainstay, fly-fishing.
  • Dry summers lead to wildfires, which are hard to ignore when the skies are full of smoke and occasionally ash. So the amount of rain we are or aren't getting is a popular topic all summer.
  • Because so much of the state is open, neither developed in tall buildings nor covered with trees, the sky is not just visible, it is a large percentage of the view. We have a lot of sunny days, too, so the weather fluctuations aren't hidden by persistent cloud cover. It is easy to see the storm clouds moving in across the valley; the weather is part of the daily environment.
And when all else fails, there is always the fact that our weather swings so much, from 40 degrees below zero in January to over 100 degrees in July, from hot sunny days to storms that fill the air with snow. Most Montanans spend time in the outdoors every week, so the weather becomes a familiar companion. And, as everywhere, it is a safe topic of conversation.

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