People have long been enchanted by this land, and it’s easy to see why: Nowhere on Earth has such a stunning display of wildlife, matched with an incredible assortment of geologic activity in the form of hot springs and geysers. It really is, as it was referred to in its early days, a wonderland.
As of Friday, it’s officially summer in Yellowstone, and all manner of animals are out, breeding, eating grass, hunting, running, lounging, menacing, cowering, playing, rejoicing. Yellowstone is alive. And guess what? It’s snowing!
That’s right. The weather forecast had warned of snow and temperatures as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit on the summer solstice, the unofficial first day of summer. Sure enough, we’ve got eight inches of fresh powder here in southwestern Montana, an hour from the entrance to the national park in West Yellowstone.
Though it may seem surprising, such extreme weather is part of the climate in Yellowstone, where snow can fall any month of the year.
Yet David Alder, an independent park guide who’s lived near West Yellowstone for 13 years, says that such a heavy snow is uncommon, happening to this degree maybe once every five years.
“But we’ll get a skiff of snow every month, just a slight bit—one or two inches that will melt off quickly,” he says. But “this is heavy and thick and this is sticking... this will wreak havoc on a lot of tourists right now.” (Read about the Yellowstone most tourists never see.)
Likely more than 800,000 tourists will visit Yellowstone in June—and with that comes all the confusion of so many people suddenly finding themselves in a place that is truly wild. (If you are not careful, for example, you can very easily be killed by a bear.)
The snow could also make life tougher for many young animals, just born this spring. Many feed on grass that’s now buried under nearly a foot of snow, Alder says. The cold also presents and added stressor that could kill some animals, especially baby birds. But, he adds, most of Yellowstone’s animals are built to survive such weather fluctuations.
Weather extremes are also a major part of Yellowstone history.
Old Faithful Inn, located near the iconic geyser of the same name, has a Christmas celebration every August 25. Park lore suggests that guests were stranded at the inn in the early 20th century by a freak blizzard, and hence started the tradition.
While that story has been disputed, I can tell you with complete certainty that it is snowing in Yellowstone—on the summer solstice.