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Montana’s largest city, Billings is a growing cultural and business center for a large area in Montana and northern Wyoming. Since the days of Lewis and Clark, it has also served as a transportation gateway between the plains to the east and the mountain areas to the west. The area is characterized by the dramatic landscape to the west, pleasant summer weather, and a strong Western flavor. Not unlike other mountain towns Boise, Spokane and Reno, the combination of local services, small town flavor, the setting and recreational opportunities draw some permanent migrants, retirees, and seasonal population, and provides some employment servicing these groups.
The economy otherwise is supported by forest products, mineral and petroleum industries with an assortment of business interests typically found in a city serving a large rural geography. The surroundings are eye-catching, but the city and its suburbs are generally not. Downtown is plain and uninspiring, with most suburbs, also fairly plain, spreading up the side of the Yellowstone Valley to the northwest. Downsides include winter cold and the 500-plus mile trip to the nearest big city, Denver.
The area is situated in the Yellowstone River valley between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. The Yellowstone River, a world-class fly-fishing stream, bisects the city, and the surrounding countryside is mainly dry bluffs, rolling plains and irrigated farmland. To the west, the land rises and becomes more rugged towards the Absaroka Range with peaks exceeding 11,000 feet. The climate is semiarid continental with features of both the northern plains and nearby mountains.
The summer season is warm with abundant sunshine and low humidity. Nights are cool from altitude and cool mountain breezes. Afternoon thunderstorms are common but don’t bring much rain. Winters are cold and sometimes windy but with mild periods. Spring brings wide fluctuations with periods of cool, cloudy, rainy days. Falls vary in length; some last into December, others end in September. May and June are the wettest months, while winter is driest. Heavy snows occur in fall and spring but do not accumulate. First freeze averages late September but can occur in late August, last freeze is mid-May but can be as late as the end of June.