Remote sensing devices in Utah's mountains show the new snow dumped by the storm dubbed the "Alaskan Clipper" dramatically increased the snowpack, making accumulations in some areas almost . . . average.
"The most striking thing is: As much snow as we've had, we're still below average for January for the northern part of the state," said Gerald Williams, hydrologist in charge at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center of the National Weather Service.The snow accumulation season is now half gone, Williams said. Storms and the amount of additional snowfall through the rest of the winter season will determine how Utahns will fare for water supplies next summer. Snow accumulations actually need to be higher than average for the state to have an average runoff next spring because dry conditions during the past two winters have created a deficit.
Each new storm pumps up snowpack statistics. The heavy snow during the past week increased the snowpack average along the Wasatch Front 1-3 percent in just three days, but enthusiasm about each addition is compromised by the fact that the snowpack season is progressing faster than the snow is accumulating.
Wasatch Front mountains had a 91 percent of average snowpack as of Feb. 1, according to statistics compiled by the Soil Conservation Service, but that percentage has dropped 15 percent since Jan. 1 readings, even with the snow dumped by the Alaskan Clipper.
Williams said November was still the best month this season for snow accumulation in Utah's mountains. "Almost every forecast has dropped a little bit since then."
Looking ahead, Williams said some reservoirs may not fill this spring, even if near-average conditions prevail through the rest of the winter season. Irrigators and culinary water producers may not know until April or May whether they will have full allocations of water from area reservoirs.
Despite recent snowfall, the water year's total snowpack is still below average. Here's a comparison, as of Feb. 1, of the snowpack in the drainage areas that supply most of the water to the Wasatch Front:
1989 1988 Average
Bear River 11.0 8.1 12.1
Weber River 13.5 8.9 11.9
Utah Lake, Jordan River
and Tooele Valley 12.9 8.3 14
Statewide average 9.5 8.1 10.3
Source: Soil Conservation Service