Utah snowpacks above average at 2020 midseason report

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SALT LAKE CITY — Storms drenched the Wasatch Front with wet, heavy snow last week and hydrologists briefed water managers on how much runoff they can expect this spring.

So far, they said the picture this year looks a lot like last year.

Last winter, Utah desperately needed snow because 2018 was the driest year on record. The state got its needed snow and avoided damaging flooding in the spring. A look at Utah’s snowpacks near the midseason points shows a repeat scenario looks possible.

“We’ve got above-average snowpack and precipitation throughout the entire state,” said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

That’s great news for Utah, which has endured long periods of drought over the last two decades.

McInerney and other hydrologists delivered the positive report to water managers from several water districts in Utah Tuesday, letting them know how much water they can expect to flow into reservoirs in the spring.

“Really similar to last year,” said Troy Brosten, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We are above average right now. We are about 121% across the state, and last year at this time we were just about the same.”

(Photo: USDA, NRCS National Water and Climate Center)
(Photo: USDA, NRCS National Water and Climate Center)

Right now, the snowpack is 137% of average in the mountains that drain into Salt Lake County. In southern Utah, many areas were around 130% average snowpack.

Not bad, considering the periods of dry weather in Utah in recent years.

“Starting back with 2018, we had the driest year on record. 2019 was above average: we filled the reservoirs, we did quite well,” McInerney said. “Then, we went into the summer months where we had an absence of storm activity throughout the majority of the state.”

Over the last couple of years, Utah weather has seesawed between hot, dry summers and plentiful, snowy winters. Right now, reservoirs across the state are at 82% capacity. A year ago, they were at 60%.

“They want to keep every drop that they can get in those reservoirs,” McInerney said. “You really don’t want to start releasing prematurely. You want to see how this is going to shake out.”

Experts said all of Utah reservoirs should fill this year except for Lake Powell. However, water levels at the popular tourist destination should rise by nearly 10%.

On Tuesday, officials said it was still too early to decide whether dam operators will need to release water to make room for runoff.

“It’s kind of a wait and see. They are cautious,” McInerney said.

They’re taking the same approach for potential flooding, too.

“I wouldn’t be concerned about it at this point,” Brosten said. “We’re above average snowpack, but certainly not way above average snowpack.”

Water managers liked what they were seeing, as long as the snowmelt ends up in reservoirs and not in flood zones.

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Jed Boal


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