Snow survey hydrologist: Utah is off to a great start, but snow needs to keep coming
SALT LAKE CITY — There was a flurry of excitement Monday among weather watchers in Utah because of the snow and rain that has already arrived and the fact that there is more in the forecast. Due to the extended drought, the region really needs a snowy winter.
Right now, snowpack in nearly every basin in the state is well above average. But this time of season, it doesn’t take much snow on the ground to be above average. The Utah Snow Survey Supervisor has a number in mind that would make a dent in the drought.
“It’s fantastic,” Hydrologist Jordan Clayton said about the snowfall so far. “We are off to a nice, early start with our snowpack. We’re seeing a really good boost to our snow water totals, and that’s nice to see.”
While snowpack looks promising in the first week of November, Clayton is quick to remind everyone that snowpack and snow water equivalent numbers don’t mean much this early in the snow season.
“Normally, we only have a very small amount of snow water equivalent on the mountain, or snow depth,” he said. “When we get an early storm like this, it blows up those percentages to these extreme numbers that aren’t really useful and are kind of silly, like 500% of normal doesn’t really make sense.”
Those numbers mean more deeper in season when they provide some perspective. But under the circumstances of an extended drought, he’s optimistic about the good start to the water year.
“It is nice to get this early boost of snowpack on the ground in October,” Clayton said.
Some of the snow that landed during the past week is already melting off at mid and low elevation.
“That’s also OK because we expect a lot more snow to come, and that’s helping boost our soil moisture, which had dipped a little bit as well,” the hydrologist said. “So good news all around.”
As for water storage, average statewide reservoir capacity is 42%.
“That does not include Powell and Flaming Gorge. So, we really need to do well from a snowpack perspective to boost some of those reservoir totals to bring a lot of water into our system,” Clayton said.
So, what would it take to make a dent in the drought?
“This is the number to put in your head,” the hydrologist said. “We want to get about 150% of normal precipitation statewide. So, if we can hit that benchmark, that will do a really nice job getting us closer to catching up from the multiple years deficit that we’ve gotten ourselves in at this point.”
He admits that’s a big number, but Utah had near record snowpack in 2011 and 2017.
“From a statewide level, about 150% of normal, that will really help a lot,” Clayton said. “That’s a lot of snow, but I think we can do it.”
So, Utah needs the snow to keep coming.
Clayton pointed out we had a good start last year that fizzled in January. He’s hopeful the weather this year delivers more promising patterns.
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