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Warm, dry February melting hopes for great water year

Utah residents weary of winter conditions may be delighting in the balmy weather, but the last month should have been a time of building an even bigger mountain snowpack to fill reservoirs this summer. Hopes for a good water year are quickly melting.
Utah residents weary of winter conditions may be delighting in the balmy weather, but the last month should have been a time of building an even bigger mountain snowpack to fill reservoirs this summer. Hopes for a good water year are quickly melting.
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SALT LAKE CITY — February's temperate weather is melting hopes that the state will have a banner water year, pushing snowpacks three to four weeks ahead of schedule.

If the trend continues, warns the latest monthly water supply and outlook report, water managers will be preparing for an earlier than normal runoff from statewide seasonal accumulations that are just short of average.

"It could start melting this week or next," said Randy Julander, Utah Snow Survey supervisor.

The report, released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, said snowpacks went down — when they should have been gaining — by significant amounts.

"February 2015 was exceptionally bad and February 2016 wasn't much better," it said. "Snowpacks took a beating across the state, declining as a percent of average."

As an example, regional basins experienced these declines relative to Feb. 1:

  • Weber, 14 percent

Provo, 18 percent

Sevier, 41 percent

Southwest Utah, 68 percent

The report said the warm, dry conditions in Utah's Dixie are especially frustrating.

"In a strong El Nino year where all predictions indicated the potential for above-average snow accumulation in southern Utah, February was a bitter disappointment and the prospects looking forward are not that promising."

Across the state, mountain precipitation ranged from 20 percent of normal to 80 percent of normal and the slopes of south-facing mountains are already void of snow to the 9,000 foot elevation level.

Because the soils have warmed, the report said any new snow that may fall will not stay long. Reservoir storage is down from where it was last year at this time — 53 percent compared to 60 percent.

Despite February's wimpy winter performance, the state is better off than it has been the past four years and there is some potential for a wet spring.

"All of the climate forecasts, they're still holding on to their guns and predicting above-average precipitation for the next couple of months," Julander said. "What we are hoping for is a really wet March and April."

Another Wasatch Front storm is coming in on Sunday.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16