An AIR QUALITY WARNING is in effect for parts of western and central Montana into Friday.
It's nasty out there. Thick wildfire smoke has moved across much of Montana. Western and central areas including Helena, Great Falls, Butte and Bozeman were "unhealthy" at times through Thursday. The air quality will remain poor through the night and most of Friday. The Haystack Fire near Elk Park had significant growth of several hundred acres on Wednesday, and is now over 1,020 acres. The Trail Creek, Alder Creek and Christensen Fires in southwest Montana also grew by hundreds if not thousands of acres and continue to emit smoke. A broad southwest flow also has been transporting wildfire smoke from California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington. Friday will start out very smoky and gray with poor air quality, but an area of low pressure will move into the state on Friday with increasing showers and thunderstorms later in the day. Some of these storms on Friday evening in western and central Montana could be severe with hail and damaging wind. The storm system will provide much needed precipitation to the state through Friday night into Saturday. Northern Montana should receive higher rainfall amounts. Rain will fall on some of the active fires in southwest Montana but also over Idaho, Oregon and even northern California fires. Showers will continue into Saturday morning, gradually decreasing by the afternoon. Highs will be cooler in the 60s and 70s. The air quality will likely improve. Sunday will be partly cloudy with highs in the 70s. More of a northwest flow will develop for early next week which should suppress wildfire smoke to the south of Montana. There will be another cooling front arriving on Wednesday, but there does not appear to be much moisture with that system. So our best chance of rain lies in the immediate future.