Hydrologists See Incredible Snowpack, Drought Progress Amid Latest Snowstorm

Mar 13, 2019, 6:14 PM | Updated: 6:34 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Many of us woke up to another snow day and more shoveling to be done. It’s easy this year to grow weary of winter by the time we get to mid-March.

Professional water watchers, however, told KSL this is the kind of winter and spring Utah desperately needs.

According to Ski Utah, Utah’s mountains have picked up four feet of snow in the last week. That’s after a tremendous February which delivered two to three times average snowfall.

“We needed this year badly,” said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

Last fall, the statewide average for Utah reservoir storage dropped to 60%.

“The water year 2018 was the driest year on record, since we’ve been keeping records,” said McInerney. “The driest.”

This winter, he said, is in the top 25% of wet years. Right now, even if Utah did not pick up any more snow, the state would finish the water year April 1 with above average snowpack.

“So, we’ve gone from incredibly dry to very wet, and very cold,” said the hydrologist. “Everything has elevated tremendously. That’s what we really wanted to see statewide: above average precipitation, above average snow, and we’ve got it right now.”

A comforting turnaround for hydrologists and water managers looking at the data today in Salt Lake City.

“We were pretty worried that if we had another dry year our water picture was going to be quite bleak,” said McInerney. “That’s not the case at all.”

Temperatures 5 to 7 degrees above average, and 200 to 300% of average snowfall in February took care of that, pushing snowpack to 130 to 140% across the state. It’s even higher in southern Utah.

“We were hoping for a really good snowpack this year, and we’re getting it,” said Troy Brosten, a hydrologist with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. “A little more would be better. But, man we’re above normal and we’ve got the potential to fill just about all the reservoirs.”

“As the snowpack has been coming, it’s been a stress reliever in a lot of ways,” said Gary Henrie, a civil engineer with the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation.

As of February 1, projections for spring runoff were about 94% of average. With plenty of snow over the last six weeks, hydrologists now expect more than 120% of average run-off.

“We were pretty concerned as the snow started falling that we were going to get a little bit of snow and it would just melt and go right into the ground.” said Henrie.

Last fall, the entire state was withering away in the midst of extreme drought. The most drought-plagued region in the country was Four Corners, and all of Utah experienced extreme drought.

“That has since been diminished dramatically due to the snowfall that we’ve got,” said McInerney. “Right now, we’re just considered abnormally dry.”

A remarkable turnaround, so far.

“We could be drought-free if our weather continues to cooperate through the end of March, April, and into the end of May.”

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Hydrologists See Incredible Snowpack, Drought Progress Amid Latest Snowstorm