Snowpack this season making a dent in the drought and long-term precipitation deficit

Apr 7, 2023, 5:55 PM | Updated: Apr 17, 2023, 4:16 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s snowpack usually peaks in the first week of April. While hydrologists still are not exactly sure when that will happen in the days ahead, they are getting a better idea of how much water is in the snowpack.

This year’s snowpack and snow water equivalent are already record breakers. With a weekend warmup ahead, plenty of people are concerned about the potential for flooding  but hydrologists say this first warm up is needed.

“This warmup is exactly what we need this time of year,” said Glen Merrill, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

Now that Utah has record snowpack, Merrill said it’s time for that snow to melt and flow into our streams and reservoirs as orderly as possible. If the low, then mid then high elevation snowpacks melt sequentially, that’s the best case scenario.

“We don’t want it to come out all at the same time, and next week’s warmup is not a situation where we’re going to be melting anything other than the low elevation snowpack,” he said.

Then, according to the forecast, the weather should cool again.

“This warm up next week is in our favor because we want to bring it like a stair step,” Merrill said. “We want to warm up, bring a section down, then cool off, lock it back up.”

Ideally, each warm up would be a little warmer, he said, over an extended period of time through May and into June. Some of the mid elevation creeks like Emigration Creek, Parleys Creek and City Creek will rise next week, he said, but nowhere near flood levels.

“We’re not there yet,”  the hydrologist said. “Again, this is exactly what we want. We want that water flowing.”

The snow water equivalent averaged across the state right now is 30 inches, smashing the record set in 1983.

“We are in uncharted territory right now,” Jordan Clayton, Utah Snow Survey Supervisor said. “We’ve broken all of the previous records going back to again the early 1930s when we started measuring snowpack in a quantitative way in Utah. All of those records are now surpassed.“

Clayton said Utah’s small and medium reservoirs will fill, and the larger reservoirs may come close, and even fill. Bear Lake will rise more than seven feet, and excess water will help raise Lake Powell and the Great Salt Lake.

Clayton said it will take another good snowpack year to start to fill those larger bodies of water, but nobody could have predicted a year this good.

When the high elevation runoff begins, Merrill said the volume of water coming down the creeks will be two times what normally flows. So, all of our communities are preparing for potential flooding.

“If you believe you live in a flood prone area, then it’s time to start preparing, and sandbags are available,” Merrill said.

So, this warm up shouldn’t cause too many problems. Hopefully the weather stretches out the runoff over several months.

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Snowpack this season making a dent in the drought and long-term precipitation deficit