Gore Hill bounds Great Falls on the West and, with an elevation of about three hundred feet above the city, offers a fine view that extends to the Highwood range to the East. In the Summer it was a fine place to put the family car in neutral and see how far you could coast and in the Winter there was some insane sledding and discing. You could also watch a peculiar dance between the Missouri River and the town's commuters.
Reasoning with a car in the Montana Winter takes a bit of care. You need to make sure the antifreeze is good to at least -40° and you need to heat the engine oil if you want any hope of turning the engine over on a cold day. Most people have head-bolt heaters in their engines - a 1,500 watt heating element that you plug in about an hour before using the car if the engine is cold.
On still cold days I would drive to an overlook on Gore Hill at about 6:30am and watch the show. Every house and business was marked by little clouds streaming up from their chimneys. Sometimes these would form a thin fog about twenty feet up and sometimes there were amazing optical effects from the street lights illuminating the ice crystals, but the real show started around seven when something like 20,000 head-bolt heaters were plugged in to the grid. This was thirty megawatts that added to the draw of lights coming on and breakfasts being cooked. A lot of water had to pass through the generators to deal with the load and the warm water turned into a dense fog as droplets were turned into tiny ice crystals.
The Missouri flowed through a gorge - a gorge that was filling with a dense fog. The fog would spill over the city. The fog would plate itself on bare metal and glass as frost. Scraping it from a windshield was work that wouldn't quit until the glass was warm. Sunrise came a bit after eight and people left for work driving in the fog with frost covered windshields. At sunrise vision could be bad and wouldn't improve until the Sun burned off the fog - conveniently just after the rush hour. Probably great for the local body shops. While only happened in extreme weather, it was an illustration of a human caused - an anthropomorphic - weather phenomena.
Weather is something of a verb to Montanans. There are several climate types each with their own signatures. Great Falls was on the East Slope of the Rockies and could get impressively cold - the weather bureau on Gore Hill registered -51°F on year and Malmstrom Air Force Base on the other side of the city dropped to -58°. The Summers were usually comfortable with readings rarely in the 90s, but occasionally there was hot weather and the official high was 107°. During my high school years we regularly saw -30° and -40° was not unheard of. One year had a three week period where the highs never rose above zero.
We were unified in our survival of the season and learned to deal with and even enjoy it. You quickly discovered the mountains were warmer when it was really cold. But over the past few decades Winters have been getting warmer. You still see some dramatically cold excursions, but not to record levels and not as frequently. Now we are talking about climate rather than weather and it is changing. It has changed enough that the Department of Agriculture's planting zone is on the verge of shifting. It has changed enough to impact the onset of the first plants breaking ground in the Spring. It is close enough that the average date that a junker car breaks through the ice on a small lake near town is shifting.
Similar shifts are taking place in many locations around the US - Climate Central has prepared a bit of information that may cover your location.
It is curious how so few of us think about climate, but we all talk about the weather...1
In New Jersey we recently saw -10°F. Almost warm by Montana standards, but most are not prepared to deal with such drops. The temperature increased rapidly and a rain feel at about freezing giving a lovely coating of ice to everything. Far too dangerous to drive or even walk without aid, ice storms are wonderful if you take the right precautions. About ten years ago I bought a pair of studded strap-on rubber cleats for my boots. They're something of a pain to put on, but they provide enough grip that you can run ice. Highly recommended assuming you take precautions like avoiding trees, power lines and roadways. I have a day-glow yellow waterproof hooded shell that goes over my coat and similar leggings. Late ice storms in the Spring are particularly beautiful as are sunny periods immediately after a storm.
The other thing I noticed during the recent storm was the quality of the sound produced by walking on the snow. It was a very dry powder with an air temperature much lower than normal New Jersey snows. Snow is made of a range of ice crystals whose geometry depends on temperature and humidity. I was walking in a classic Montana snow - the type that fell at ten below rather than some of the colder snows. Ken Libbrecht is a physicist at Caltech with a snowflake hobby. He travels, photographs, experiments with and thinks about snowflakes in his spare time. His webpage has some excellent photography along with a lot of information from an expert. And if you know a young reader with an interest in science his book The Secret Life of a Snowflake makes a great gift.
1 It is likely this is an artifact of our neural wiring and genetics. Although that and how do deal with it are fantastic questions, it is the basis of the great frustration I've ever faced.
Winter is a wonderful time for scones. My grandmother was a remarkable baker, but her scones were awful. It turns out they were Irish scones - totally inferior to their English cousins. Not particularly heart healthy, but a great splurge in cold weather. You can use anything you have on hand as a replacement for the blueberries - currants and cherries are particularly yummy. I happen to love blueberries and hand 'em on hand.
° 250g all purpose flour
° 1 tbl baking powder
° 1/2 tsp salt (uniodized)
° 70g white cane sugar plus some extra for sprinkling
° 150 - 200g dried blueberries (guessing ... something over a cup I think)
° 1 cup chilled heavy cream
° 3 tbl unsalted butter (high quality) melted
° oven to 375°F rack at middle level
° sift the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl. Stir in the blueberries and add the cream using a mixer (or a strong arm and large spoon) until the ingredients are just combined. Do not over mix!
° put the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead it a bit. Roll out to an inch thick and cut into biscuits. (either square with a knife or get fancy with a cookie cutter).. I keep them about an inch and a half on a side.
° use a pastry brush to paint the tops of the scones with the melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.
° bake until golden - a bit under 15 minutes in my oven.
° cool on a baking rack