Because most of Yellowstone National Park lies at 6000 feet above sea level or higher the weather can be unpredictable. You can expect big temperature swings, rain or snow in every month of the year. No matter when you’re visiting always bring a warm jacket, rain gear and lots of layers. When I visited in August with my family we were unprepared! I hope you enjoy reading an exert from my book “Holiday” at the bottom of this blog, inspired by our trip to Yellowstone.
During the Spring snow, rain, or extremely warm and pleasant days can all occur within the same week. Yellowstone is warmest and driest during the Summer months but snow has even fallen in July and afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon. Some of the best storms produce wonderful sunsets and full rainbows. The high elevation of Yellowstone makes the sun more intense, and the alpine weather patterns are dynamic and quick-changing. Autumn brings warm dry days and cool crisp nights but snow is a possibility from September.
Winter in Yellowstone is magical. The “fire and ice” effect of the snow and colder temperatures mixed with the steamy boiling hot springs and geysers make for amazing snowscapes and natural beauty. It’s a photographer’s paradise.
Most park roads are closed to cars during the Winter, but access is allowed to vehicles able to cope in the heavy snow like snowcoaches and snowmobiles. The road from Gardiner, Montana to Cooke City, Montana, via Mammoth Hot Springs is the only in-park road accessible to cars, buses and trucks. However, the road dead-ends at Cooke City, as travel beyond that town is limited to over-snow vehicles again.
Temperatures in Yellowstone in winter vary due to elevation. However, most visitor areas tend to stay in the 0-25 degree (-20 to -5°C) range. Temperatures at higher elevations can drop to below 0. Annual park-wide snowfall tends to be around 150 inches, although higher elevations can get 200-400 inches.
Winter weather can occasionally cause the temporary closure of park roads. You should check with the National Park Service on 307-344-7381 or visit the National Park Service website for current road reports.
The chances of being injured or killed by lightning are very small. You’ve got to be pretty lucky but I have to say when we drove through lightning in Yellowstone I was pretty scared. The scene below, an exert from “Holiday” was inspired by the drive across the plains. We travelled in August and the weather was pretty freaky. In one day we experienced every weather you could experience – heavy rain, blistering sun and a snow shower. It’s wise to exercise a little caution along with some good old-fashioned common sense when thunderstorms are forecast in Yellowstone. The key to lightning safety is to avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time if you can. Everybody who has ever been accidentally struck by lightning was simply unfortunate to be at the exact spot a lightning strike was already going to occur. This is what the The National Lightning Safety Institute say about lightning:
“Safely pulling off to the side of the road, waiting out the storm, turning off the engine, putting one’s hands in one’s lap and not touching inside items such as door and window handles, steering wheels and gear shifts. Heavy equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes with rollover canopies are safe during thunderstorms, but riding mowers and golf carts are not.”
“While a car provides some protection from lightning, as the metal frame directs lightning currents to the ground, vehicles can still be damaged by a strike. Lightning damage to a vehicle includes pitting, arcing and burning along with electrical system issues,” the Institute said.
This is the exert from my book “Holiday” and it’s based on notes I made during our road trip. Watching the storm crashing around us, I have to say was truly incredible and one of the most memorable scenes of any trip I’ve done. It was awesome! I hope the scene brings it to life for you, the reader:
“We head out of Jackson Hole and the Tetons and north towards Yellowstone experiencing all weathers within a few hours: blue skies, bright sun, black clouds, heavy rain and ten minutes of heavy sleet. Multiple forks of lightning zig zag across the sky in quick and dramatic succession and ashes blend into each other, lighting up the sky with a ghastly glow. Our eyes are pinned ahead, we don’t speak but gasp at each clap, frightened that the next fork might strike the car or a tree might crash and crush us. I step on the gas as if fleeing an enemy attack.
The storm subsides and the sun comes out and the landscape looks calm and refreshed. After the rain, a mist rises over the Firehole River. As we drive Ray talks about the wildlife of Yellowstone, including the astonishing migration of the Monarch butterfly from North America to Mexico, taking several generations to arrive.”
From “Holiday” by Joanna Warrington, available on Amazon: