Wintry storm puts 2 feet of snow in some Utah places. Is more on the way?

Little Cottonwood Canyon overlooks the Salt Lake Valley and the snow-covered Oquirrh Mountains on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Parts of the canyon received 2 feet of snow over the weekend

Little Cottonwood Canyon overlooks the Salt Lake Valley and the snow-covered Oquirrh Mountains on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Parts of the canyon received 2 feet of snow over the weekend (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)



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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's first wintry storm of the season ultimately proved to be as productive as expected, nearly erasing the state's October precipitation deficit in just one weekend.

Alta was the storm's big winner, receiving 25 inches of snow over the weekend — a half-foot above the area's monthly normal of 24.4 inches, according to National Weather Service. Solitude Ski Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon received 18 inches of snow among the mountain leaders; Summit Park (10 inches), Tooele (7 inches) and West Jordan (5.5 inches) received the most among areas in and around the valleys, the agency added Monday.

The storm also produced plenty of water. Salt Lake City received 0.77 inches of rain over the weekend, helping Utah's capital city return to just 0.14 inches below its normal for this point in October. The city had only collected 0.02 inches of rain this month prior to the storm.

Utah's mountain precipitation — a figure based on the average of 115 snowpack sites across the state — jumped from 0.2 inches of water on Friday, or 15% of normal for the water year, to 1.2 inches by Monday morning, or 80% of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The current water year began on Oct. 1.

Some portions of the Wasatch Mountains received more than 3 inches of water, the weather service reported. As a result, the Provo-Utah-Jordan river snowpack basin entered Monday at a resounding 1,900% of normal for this point in the season.

"It just goes to show how fruitful this storm was," said KSL meteorologist Matt Johnson. "In the short-term, this is great. We love to start things off (nicely)."

And there's more on the way this week.

What to expect in the short-term

A smaller storm, coming from the Pacific Northwest, is forecast to arrive in the state by Tuesday morning. It's projected to provide more valley rain for the northern half of Utah and snow in the higher-elevation areas, according to Johnson.

"It's not a strong storm. It's nothing like we saw over the last two days," he explained.

The weather service adds that more rain and snow are expected with another cold front passing through on Wednesday afternoon, before a high-pressure system returns Thursday afternoon, providing a chilly but dry end of the workweek. Combined, models suggest that the storms could produce nearly another foot in parts of the Wasatch Mountains, Johnson said.

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

The long-term outlook

More than half of Utah remains in at least severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The ongoing drought conditions are why this winter is important, as water experts say multiple good snowpack years are needed to help the state get out of the drought.

Johnson cautions that the weekend and this week's precipitation, while good, isn't exactly a window of what's to come in the long term.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed last week that a La Nina oceanic pattern is in play for the third-straight winter — only the third time a "triple-dip" La Nina has occurred over the past 50 years. This is projected to result in above-normal precipitation and below-normal temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and the northern Rocky Mountain region, and below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures in the Southwest this winter.

In an online briefing held Thursday, Jon Gottschalck, the chief meteorologist for the agency's operational prediction branch, explained that outlook isn't a foregone conclusion, meaning, "other outcomes are possible," but those probabilities are "just less likely." These outlooks mean parts of the western U.S and southern Great Plains will more than likely be "the hardest hit this winter" when it comes to drought, he said.

"We anticipate widespread extreme drought to persist across much of the West, the Great Basin and central-southern Great Plains," he said.

The 2022-2023 U.S. Winter Outlook map for precipitation shows wetter-than-average conditions are most likely in western Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. Drier-than-average conditions are forecast in portions of California, the Southwest, the southern Rockies, southern Plains, Gulf Coast and much of the Southeast.
The 2022-2023 U.S. Winter Outlook map for precipitation shows wetter-than-average conditions are most likely in western Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, northern Rockies, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley. Drier-than-average conditions are forecast in portions of California, the Southwest, the southern Rockies, southern Plains, Gulf Coast and much of the Southeast. (Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Utah could go either way.

The agency's projections list most of the state in "equal chances," which means the winter could end up good, bad or about average in terms of precipitation figures. The winter outlook also projects most of the state to receive above-normal temperatures. It adds that Utah's drought is expected to either continue or worsen this season, although drought conditions could improve within northeast parts of the state.

Gottschalck said that areas in the West within "equal chances," like most of Utah, are likely to experience greater variability in the winter when it comes to storms and high-pressure systems that bounce storms away from the state. This variability decreases in the southern portion of the state, hence why it is listed as having a greater probability of below-average precipitation.

It all comes down to where high-pressure ridges set up off the Pacific Coast, he explained. La Nina tends to result in ridges in the north-central portion of the coast, which allows troughs — water-heavy and cold winter storms — to pass through the Pacific Northwest. A slight shift of where a ridge sets up can alter the path of a trough either to Utah's benefit or detriment.

"For example, if it shifted just 20 degrees longitude to the west, a trough won't be an impact (on) the Pacific Northwest, it'll impact the whole West Coast," he said, adding that a ridge moving to the east of its normal location can result in below-normal precipitation.

It's possible that Utah could receive a mix of the two, as it did last winter. A series of troughs, referred to as "atmospheric rivers," resulted in well above-normal precipitation totals in October and December 2021. But strong high-pressure systems created severely dry stretches in November 2021 and at the start of the year. In the end, the last snow season fell to about 75% of normal.

The Beehive State typically ends up in "equal chances" during a La Nina winter because of this variability.

"It's feast or famine," Johnson said, explaining La Nina's historic impact on Utah. "We've seen great years (and) we've seen really bad years — just like last year's."

Only time will tell what this year's La Nina will provide.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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