Forecast calls for plenty of 'critical' rain for drought-stricken Utah

The Warren family takes a walk in the rain around Oquirrh Lake in the Daybreak community on June 7, 2020. The weather forecast calls for more than 1 inch of rain across the Wasatch Front between Tuesday and Saturday.

The Warren family takes a walk in the rain around Oquirrh Lake in the Daybreak community on June 7, 2020. The weather forecast calls for more than 1 inch of rain across the Wasatch Front between Tuesday and Saturday. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Talk about a nice start to the water year.

A series of storms are expected to provide rain throughout Utah this week, with some parts in northern Utah possibly receiving upwards of 2 inches of precipitation by the end of the week.

The storm system arrived in southern and central Utah from Arizona early Tuesday. The National Weather Service reports that the Upper Joes Valley in central Utah is the biggest beneficiary so far. The agency reported that it received 0.4 inches of rain by 8 a.m.

The system is expected to continue moving north into the Wasatch Front by Tuesday afternoon, said KSL meteorologist Kevin Eubank. The system is expected to linger across the state Wednesday, especially in northern and central Utah.

"And then another impulse comes in for northern Utah on Thursday and lasts even Friday," he said.

KSL Weather Center projections show areas across the Wasatch Front and northern Utah may receive anywhere from 1 to 2 inches of precipitation between Tuesday and Saturday, with some areas potentially receiving more than 2 inches.

Utah's 2022 water year began Friday. The forecast shows a complete reversal of how the water year started last year. For instance, the current forecast calls for Salt Lake City to receive more than 1.5 inches of rain this week; it received just 1.31 inches throughout October, November and December combined to start the 2021 water year.

That's important now for a pair of reasons. First, the Wasatch Front and parts of central Utah remain in an "exceptional" drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. While all parts of the state are in at least "severe" drought, "exceptional" is the worst drought severity category.

While this week's storm won't get Utah out of a drought, Utah's fall rains also play an important role in the process needed to refill the statewide reservoir system. Fall rains help soak the ground and replenish groundwater, which opens the door for a snowpack that can ultimately end up in reservoirs and not in the ground.

"One thing that's critical is soaking rains during the months of October and November. That preps the soil so when we get the snow, the snow can actually do some good," Eubank said.

The Utah Department of Natural Resources reported that Utah's average soil moisture — thanks to monsoonal moisture in July and August — had already returned to 36% by Thursday, just a tick below the 37.8% average at the end of the water year. This week's storm would help propel it closer to average.

Eubank added that Utah would still need an average to above-average snowpack as well as spring rain in April and May to best help refill reservoirs that have fallen below 50% capacity statewide.

"If we get a gradual runoff, it will not only replenish the groundwater but it will also actually replenish the surface waters and reservoirs," he explained. "We need it all to come in sequence so we can make it work."

This week's storms at least provide hope that the normal system may return this year after back-to-back significantly dry water years.

Freezing temperatures on the horizon?

High temperatures across the Wasatch Front are expected to fall from the upper 70s Monday and Tuesday to the upper 50s and lower 60s this week, along with the moisture — more aligned with the normal for this time of the year. High temperatures in St. George are expected to remain in the 70s and 80s.

But there is a possibility that colder temperatures are coming after this series of storms, the National Weather Service tweeted Tuesday.

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Meteorologists with the weather service said there's an "increased likelihood" for a trough to move into the state early to middle next week. It currently holds a 20% chance of snow with it but could give Utah "the coldest temperatures of the season thus far."

It'll be more clear if the trough will arrive in Utah in the coming days.

Full seven-day forecasts for areas across Utah can be found at the KSL Weather Center.

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