Utah’s encouraging early snowpack turns into desperate need for big storms

Feb 10, 2022, 4:10 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 4:16 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – December was a great month for Utah’s snowpack, but that was followed by one of the driest Januarys on record. Utah desperately needs more of those December storms. 

The new year started with a lot of promise that Utah might start to recover from the severe drought that gripped the state. But right now it’s 50 days from the beginning of April, which is when the Utah snowpack typically peaks. Unfortunately, the snowpack has dropped below average and the water equivalent in that snow was below 90%. 

“This snow season has been a roller coaster. We’ve had huge highs and really depressing lows,” said Hydrologist Jordan Clayton, supervisor of the Utah Snow Survey. 

The statewide snow water equivalent has plummeted from 135% early last month to 90% today. That leaves Utah about five inches below average. 

What kind of storms would it take to get back to average? 

“If we think about those storms that we received at the end of December and the beginning of January. If we had a handful of those we would get up to where we need to be by April,” said Clayton. “That’s totally achievable. Unfortunately, the forecast doesn’t look very encouraging right now.” 

Mount Timpanogos overlooks a depleted Jordanelle Reservoir. (KSL TV) Mount Timpanogos overlooks a depleted Jordanelle Reservoir. (KSL TV) Snowpack on Utah's mountains has declined over the past several weeks. (KSL TV)

Getting back to average this year would not make a dent in the extended drought which has left Utah more than 11 inches below normal. Utah needs several years of above-average snowpack to begin to replenish reservoirs and groundwater. 

On the positive side, the soil moisture is better than average and better than a year ago.  

“That is encouraging because that does boost our efficiency of how much water we get when all the snow starts to melt,” Clayton said. “We saw last year what happens when we had extremely dry soils. We lost so much of that water that was stored in the snowpack to the headwaters soils, and we didn’t get very much of that downstream pretty.” 

When the soil is saturated, more of the runoff makes it into the reservoir. So that’s one advantage over last year. 

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Utah’s encouraging early snowpack turns into desperate need for big storms