Officials Monitoring Flooding Potential, Snowpack As Rain Continues
SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — Another early spring storm is delivering rain in the valleys and snow in the mountains across the state. Right now, this is exactly the kind of Spring weather experts say Utah needs to replenish water supplies.
April showers bring May flowers. But, what do the showers do for the snowpack in the mountains?
“The closer we get to May that we keep building our snow pack, the flood threat increases,” said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
The storm today is delivering as much as 3/4″ of water in the mountains. McInerney said the snow up in the mountains is not melting, yet.
“So, what we’re doing is adding water into the snow, and just making it more dense,” he said.
Last year, 2018, was the driest year on record.
This winter, a complete turnaround with storms delivering two to three times average snowfall in January, February and March.
Snowpack across northern Utah is between 130% and 140% of average. In southern Utah, it’s even deeper, in the range of 170%.
Last fall, Utah’s water storage was shrinking. Now, it’s likely the majority of the state’s reservoirs will fill this summer.
McInerney is not worried about flooding in early April. He’s starting to monitor when the snowpack up in the mountains will start to melt.
“People get kind of worried that we’re going to have flooding issues, and it’s really not the case.”
At least, not yet, he said. Damaging flooding in Utah, like the floodwaters the Wasatch Front experienced in 1983, happened when the snow-melt was delayed well into late May.
“The snowpack kept building until about the third week of May,” McInerney said, referencing the 1983 floods. “Then it melted all at once in a really rapid fashion.”
Typically, the snowpack in Northern Utah should shrink after peaking at the end of the water year, April 1. This year, Mother Nature is still adding to the snowpack, with a couple more storms lined up.
“What we’re looking at is high volume flows, and then we’re monitoring the weather through April to see how it’s going to come off,” said the hydrologist.
There’s a possibility of damaging floods, said McInerney. Not a probability.
“Right now, it’s a wait and see,” he said.
Regardless of flooding potential, streams will be raging when the high elevation snow melts next month.
McInerney reminds everyone who goes to enjoy the spectacle to always keep your distance, and keep a close eye on kids because they find the water enticing. Two years ago, six people in Utah died in the raging waters of Spring run-off.
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