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'Phenomenal' rainfall helps ease impact of drought, hydrologist says

By Jed Boal | Posted - Sep. 30, 2014 at 6:48 p.m.


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LITTLE COTTONWOOD CANYON — Utah's wet weather over the past three months has done wonders for the state's drought situation.

"We are much better off than we have been the past couple of years," said Randy Julander, a Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) Snow Survey hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Each of the last three months, Utah received well above average rainfall. Julander said that is very unusual, for the region. But, is it a drought-buster?

"It certainly is a drought-helper," Julander said.

Utah and much of the western region of the United States has been gripped by long-term drought, with each of the last three years delivering average or well-below average precipitation.

But. this summer was one the hydrologist will remember.

After a dismally dry and hot June, July ended with 150 percent to 200 percent of average precipitation in Utah, while August was 200 percent of average, and September will wrap up with 2 1/2 to three times average rainfall.

"A phenomenal month," said Julander. "Each one of these months we've seen anywhere between 1 to 8 inches of rain in the high country, and typically between at least a half and three-quarter inches of rain down here the valleys."


The upper foot of soil has as much moisture in it now as you would see during active snow melt. That is unbelievable at this point.

–Randy Julander, SNOTEL hydrologist


When that happens, he says people stop watering their lawns, farmers stop irrigating, and we conserve the valuable resource. That leaves more water in Utah's reservoirs, which statewide are 55 percent to 60 percent full.

"We anticipated it would be much lower than that," he said. "So, it saves a lot of reservoir storage that we will be able to use next year."

Recent rains also raised soil moisture to levels Julander has never seen in the 15 years the conservation service has kept that statistic.

"The upper foot of soil has as much moisture in it now as you would see during active snow melt," he said. "That is unbelievable at this point."

When the soil is saturated in the fall, snowmelt next spring won't soak into the ground. As a result, more of that water flows into reservoirs.

"If we continue this pattern of high precipitation amounts, we are feeling good about this winter already," Julander said.

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