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Climate projections: What's in store for Utah this winter?

John Russell shovels the sidewalk in front of his house after a snowstorm in Salt Lake City on Dec. 15. Winter solstice is Wednesday afternoon in Utah.

John Russell shovels the sidewalk in front of his house after a snowstorm in Salt Lake City on Dec. 15. Winter solstice is Wednesday afternoon in Utah. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Wednesday marks the official start of winter, though it certainly has already felt like winter the past few weeks in Utah.

Salt Lake City, to give a valley example, has collected nearly 21 inches of snow this December — 8.7 inches above normal for the whole month. As for the mountains, Utah's statewide snowpack remains at 131% of normal for this point in the snow collection season — and there's more snow on the way in northern Utah this week.

However, Utah's snowpack collection is just about one-third of a normal collection season, which is the average of the past 30 snow collection seasons. Over the past 30 years, about 70% of the snow Utah collects comes after the winter solstice.

This is why Gov. Spencer Cox reminded Utahns last week that February, March and April each play a vital role in the snow collection season, and that Utah has a "long way to go" before the winter is considered a success. A normal or above-normal snowpack won't solve Utah's ongoing drought situation, but it is considered an important step toward the state's recovery.

So, given the importance of the next few months, what's in store for the rest of winter? Here's what the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center projects.

A strong close to 2022?

The Climate Prediction Center offers various types of outlooks, ranging from about a week in advance up to three months in advance, using all sorts of current meteorological data and historic trends.

The short-term outlook is very promising for Utah. It projects most of Utah having a 50% to 75% probability of having above-average precipitation between Monday and Dec. 30. There's also a 50% to 65% probability of above-average precipitation between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3, 2023. The normal for the period of time is between a tenth and a half-inch of precipitation.

The outlook also calls on a higher probability of above-normal temperatures, so it's possible some areas may receive rain instead of snow.

"It looks like we stay in a more active pattern for that last week (of 2022)," said National Weather Service lead meteorologist Christine Kruse.

A projected toss-up to start 2023

Anything beyond the final week of 2022 is less clear. North America is currently experiencing the effects of a La Nina oceanic pattern; however, there's a strong chance that will end sometime between February and April 2023. That's when the pattern will return to ENSO-neutral, meaning neither La Nina or El Nino.

What that means for Utah is yet to be determined. While the Climate Prediction Center projects a wetter, colder first three months in the Pacific Northwest and a warmer, drier first three months in the Southwest, most of Utah is listed in "equal chances" — meteorological slang for there's no clear outlook.

The months of January, February and March, as a whole, are essentially a toss-up. Utah may benefit from the Pacific Northwest storms like it has already this month, or those storms may end up north of the state.

These maps show temperature and precipitation probability for the U.S. between January and March 2023.
These maps show temperature and precipitation probability for the U.S. between January and March 2023. (Photo: National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center)

This uncertainty is best illustrated through the center's interactive map, which allows users to narrow the outlook down to cities and towns. Most of Utah has an even probability of receiving either near-normal, above-normal or below-normal precipitation in the first three months of the year, which also means the odds are tilted toward at least a normal level of precipitation during the critical point that Cox referenced.

Here's what that looks like for different parts of the state:

  • Alta: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 20.98 inches).
  • Blanding: 36% below normal, 33% near normal, 31% above normal (Normal: 5.92 inches).
  • Logan: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 4.81 inches).
  • Price: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 2.57 inches).
  • Salt Lake City: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 4.98 inches).
  • St. George: 35% below normal, 33% near normal, 32% above normal (Normal: 5.62 inches).
  • Vernal: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 1.60 inches).

The temperature outlook for these same locations is equally unclear, though southern Utah locations are leaning slightly toward having a warmer-than-average start to the year as compared to other parts of the state. This is actually a slight shift from the original outlook provided in October, which called for greater chances of above-normal temperatures across the state this winter.

  • Alta: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 29 degrees maximum, 13 degrees minimum).
  • Blanding: 35% above normal, 33% near normal, 32% below normal (Normal: 47 degrees maximum, 24 degrees minimum).
  • Logan: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 40 degrees maximum, 20 degrees minimum).
  • Price: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 44 degrees maximum, 20 degrees minimum).
  • Salt Lake City: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 45 degrees maximum, 27 degrees minimum).
  • St. George: 36% above normal, 33% near normal, 31% below normal (Normal: 59 degrees maximum, 35 degrees minimum).
  • Vernal: 34% near normal, 33% above normal, 33% below normal (Normal: 41 degrees maximum, 15 degrees minimum).

It means Utahns will have to wait and see if the wintry trend heading into winter continues throughout the season.

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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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