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Salt Lake City records 3rd driest spring on record as drought conditions begin to grow in Utah

By Carter Williams, | Posted - Jun. 1, 2020 at 12:15 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — What a difference a year makes.

Following the second-wettest spring on record set in 2019, the spring of 2020 was Salt Lake City’s third-driest on record, according to the National Weather Service. The weather agency recorded 2.19 inches of precipitation during March, April and May, which accounts for the meteorological spring. That’s 3.54 inches below the 1981-2010 average of 5.73 inches for the season. The weather service has kept track of the city’s records since 1874.

Storms producing 0.40 inches in the final two weeks of May spared 2020 from becoming the second-driest spring on record behind 1934, when the city received just 0.93 inches of precipitation during the three-month span. 1969 remains the second-driest on record at 2.13 inches.

The dry spring comes after the state received an average snowpack during the winter, which has helped keep reservoirs across Utah filled up. Salt Lake City has received 8.51 inches of precipitation since the 2020 water year began on Oct. 1, 2019; that’s 4.10 inches below the normal heading into meteorological summer, according to weather service data.

"We did very well snowpack-wise for northern Utah, but most of that actually came early in the winter. We started out around Thanksgiving time through about January doing really well, getting snow accumulation in the mountains," David Church, a meteorologist for the weather service, told during an interview last month. "But the pattern shifted for the second half and into spring, and it’s really kind of shut that down."

In addition to the lack of precipitation, May was hot across the state. The National Weather Service reported that it was the fourth-warmest May in Salt Lake City history based on average temperature with the warmest minimum temperature on record for the month. It tweeted that heat records were also reported all over the state throughout May.

The drying conditions have led to the resurgence of drought conditions in Utah. Nearly 81% of the state is in a moderate drought and all but 9.4% of the state is considered at least abnormally dry, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Parts of central Utah and southeastern Utah are listed as being in severe droughts at the moment.

This graphic shows drought conditions in Utah as of May 26, 2020. The U.S. Drought Monitor says at least 80% of the state is experiencing a moderate drought. (Graphic: U.S. Drought Monitor)

They’ve also raised fire concerns heading into the summer months. Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands reported there had already been 237 fires as of early last week. More fires have been reported since then, including a human-caused fire that broke out in Ogden Canyon Saturday, a lightning-caused fire near Scipio and a 4,157-acre wildfire on Stansbury Island — the state’s largest wildfire of the year thus far.

Summer is typically northern Utah’s driest season. Salt Lake City averages 2.28 inches of precipitation during the season. With four months left in the water year, 2020 stands to be one of Salt Lake City’s driest on record; but a normal remainder of the year would propel it far from being the worst on record, which is 8.70 inches set in 1979.

Tips for fire safety can be found here.

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