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Utah closes 2016 with above-average precipitation

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah plowed into the beginning of the year with a stellar supply of snow in the mountains, brought on by December precipitation that left most regions of the state teeming with fresh powder.

The final month of 2016 delivered 159 percent of average precipitation to the state. So far, the water year that began in October has Utah sitting at 116 percent of average — good news after five consecutive years of drought.

A report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service said the state has reason to be cautiously optimistic.

"We are above average with a lot more to come," notes the report released by Randy Julander, Utah Snow Survey supervisor. "It is exciting to have above-average snow conditions to report on, but with a large amount of realism — there are still three critical snow accumulation months ahead and any outcome is possible."

The report does not count any of the relentless snowstorms that have pounded the state since Jan. 1, so while residents are weary of snow shovels, mountain conditions are even more promising for water supplies.

Across the state, varying hydrologic basins sit in above-average conditions for seasonal accumulation of snowpack:

• Bear River — 137 percent of average

• Ogden-Weber — 115 percent of average

• Provo-Utah-Jordan — 111 percent of average

• Southwestern Utah — 113 percent of average

In Utah's Dixie region, December was a star performer, delivering precipitation nearly twice what is average.

The storms have pumped up most stream flows across the state to near or above average.

With temperatures expected to warm to the 40s by Sunday — and with rain in the forecast — the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City is warning for the potential of flooding, particularly in Cache County where an inch of rain could fall within a 12-hour period.

The sheriff's office is warning residents there to take precautions, especially if they are in an area prone to flooding. Ogden Valley is another area where there is a potential for flooding.

"The concern is that when we have rain falling on snow, there is some concern for flooding," said Monica Traphagan, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"The rivers will be running high at this time as well."

Julander's report notes that this water year has not been without its drama — an unseasonably warm October and November, a nasty December inversion, and then a string of storms to end the year.

His reports note that those storms need to continue to pump up snowpack to boost reservoir storage, which statewide is still just shy of half capacity.