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Snowstorms have been robust, but Utah is still sitting at average

Experts say we need more snow, and a lot of it

SHARE Snowstorms have been robust, but Utah is still sitting at average
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Water flows downstream in Big Cottonwood in Salt Lake County on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News

If you think it has been snowy and rainy, you are right. A series of storms have been generous to Utah, but what happens in the months to come is a question mark.

Last year, for example, storms came on strong in the latter part of the year but then January and February flatlined.

“We’re close to normal for this time of year from a precipitation perspective. We are encouraged by the snow that we’re already getting. It looks like the pattern going into next week also looks wet,” said Jordan Clayton, supervisor of the Utah Snow Survey with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snow totals may look extraordinarily optimistic in the various basins, but they are skewed because of how early in the season it is, Clayton said.

Will the drought end soon?

“It is way too early to get hopeful,” he said. “There is no way to know what is going to happen or not.”

Clayton also took objection with the overall characterization that Utah and other parts of the West have been in a prolonged drought for 22 years.

“I don’t necessarily see it that way. I see 2017 and 2011 which were really outstanding snowpack years. And there’s been some awful years in between. I mean, there’s been some average years like 2019,” he said. It is a flip of the coin.

In fact, the latest statewide assessment by the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that 51.2% of the state remains in extreme drought, while 100% is abnormally dry.

With that said, Clayton again warned that an active stormy October does not mean a good water year.

How much snow does Utah need?

In a report released last month, Clayton warned that most basins across the state need a lot of snowpack accumulation to achieve normal.

“Some areas of Utah are not terribly deep in the hole, precipitation-wise, such as the northeastern Uintas and southwestern Utah. Contrastingly, many areas of the state need a very large amount of water to ‘catch up’, so to speak, such as the Lower Sevier, Raft, Tooele Valley-Vernon Creek and Weber-Ogden basins — all of which have deficits exceeding 17 inches.”

The report adds: “Again, this implies that those basins would need at least 150% of normal precipitation (or more) to get back to normal levels of moisture, i.e. to get out of the drought. At the statewide level, the total deficit is around 12 inches, which is roughly 43% of what Utah normally gets in a year. Perhaps our new water year will deliver these totals! One can hope.”

Here is a look is a look at select basins and those deficits compiled since 2020 ending in 2022:

  • Bear, 11 inches.
  • Provo, Utah Lake Jordan, 13.2 inches.
  • Tooele Valley-Vernon Creek, 18.8 inches.
  • Weber-Ogden, 17.6 inches.

What’s in the forecast?

The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City is forecasting another active weather pattern, with hard freeze warnings, winter storm warnings and advisories as well.

While the unsettled weather will skirt along the edges of the Wasatch Front, the agency indicates the most active patterns will impact portions of central Utah and hit southern Utah hard.

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Water flows downstream in Big Cottonwood in Salt Lake County on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.

Ben B. Braun, Deseret News