News / Utah / 

Carter Williams,

Here's why Salt Lake City received its driest April in 146 years of records

By Carter Williams, | Updated - May 1, 2020 at 5:07 p.m. | Posted - May 1, 2020 at 2:04 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks in part to bizarre weather patterns across portions of the west, Utah’s capital city received its driest April ever since the National Weather Service began tracking Salt Lake City records in 1874.

The agency reports that Salt Lake City received just 0.26 inches of rain with just a trace of snowfall during the month. The city entered May 1 having received 8.11 inches of precipitation since the water year began on Oct. 1, 2019, which is 2.55 inches below the normal for this point in the year.

Springtime is traditionally where the city and parts of northern Utah receive its most rainfall. So what happened?

KSL meteorologist Grant Weyman explained that it had to do with weird weather patterns that kept storms below the Wasatch Front and most of the intermountain west.

"Southern California had an abundant amount of rainfall. I don’t know how close it was to a record, but they had an incredibly wet April," he said. "One pattern we had for a while were these upper-level lows — these storms that crashed into California and gave them a ton of water. As they moved inland, they stayed south and then kind of moved out of the western U.S."

These storms mainly moved from California into southern Arizona and into Mexico instead of hitting Utah.

"It was just a weird pattern where most of the western rainfall was targeting California and then dissipating or moving away from Utah — away to the south," Weyman added.

A weather service map showing April precipitation shows the discrepancy between the western coast and intermountain west regions. Most of California received 2-6 inches of precipitation — and some parts near Los Angeles received more than that. But Salt Lake City received 0.26 inches and similar patterns emerged in southern Idaho, eastern Utah, most of Colorado and the Four Corners.

Parts of southwestern Utah fared better during the month from some of the storms. Cedar City, which is where the National Weather Service has its other recording station, fared a little better in April and remains closer to its average for this point in the year. It received 0.85 inches of precipitation during the month and has received 7.21 inches of precipitation since the water year began. That’s just 0.17 inches below its normal for this time of the year.

It’s hard to determine what will happen further than a few days in advance, but Weyman said the current long-range outlooks show few storms projected for the first half of May. And Salt Lake City typically starts drying out during the second half and into the summer.

That said, there are still positive signs. For example, the state received close to an average snowpack level this year. And a great water year in 2019 means that most of the state’s reservoirs should be filled by the end of the water runoff period.

"Regardless of what happens in May, our water supply is going to be in decent shape just because of those other factors," Weyman said.

In fact, reservoirs in and around Utah are above where they normally would be at this point of the year because of the water year, said Gary Henry, a civil engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation. Adding in the snowpack that’s prime to melt now in the coming weeks, he anticipates that most of the state’s reservoirs will be filled to capacity or at least near it.

Of the ones he anticipated being lower than the rest in the state, Henry pointed to Steinaker Reservoir near Vernal and Strawberry Reservoir in Wasatch County. Steinaker Reservoir was repaired last year and therefore couldn’t retain water from 2019 and snowpack was a bit lower near Strawberry Reservoir.

“We’re anticipating getting a near-normal runoff, depending on where the snow fell and where things are better than others,” he said. “In general, it’s looking to be a pretty normal year as far as how much water we’re getting (in reservoirs). ... We've got a pretty good water supply and I think part of the message needs to be the continual need to conserve water."

Contributing: Kelli Pierce, KSL NewsRadio

Carter Williams

KSL Weather Forecast