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Snow depth doubled in 30 days at some Utah sites, researcher says


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SALT LAKE CITY — The snow keeps piling up quickly in Utah's mountains, delivering the kind of water that communities need to climb out of the extended drought.

In the mountains near Alta, the snowpack is already stacking up as one of the wettest in 20 years. In a year when Utah's reservoirs desperately need a recharge, Utah is fortunate that the storms have delivered so far.

Dr. McKenzie Skiles, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah, studies the snowpack in a snow pit near Alta. The pit has revealed exciting data.

"It is a big year for the plot," she said.

Skiles directs the Snow Hydrology Research to Operations Laboratory at the University of Utah.

Dr. McKenzie Skiles, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah, studies the snowpack in a snow pit near Alta.
Dr. McKenzie Skiles, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Utah, studies the snowpack in a snow pit near Alta. (Photo: KSL TV)

"We're really interested in quantifying how much water is held in snow in the mountains, and how that is changing over time, and how we can better measure it," she said.

They measure snowpack and other atmospheric variables at the Atwater Study Plot near Alta Ski Resort.

"We want to watch the snow accumulate over time and then melt out over time, and use that to assess how much water we're going to get downstream," she said.

Right now, it looks great.

"We've already hit three meters of snow depth, and that's almost 10 feet of snow, and typically in previous years, 2019 was also a pretty deep snow year, and we didn't hit three meters until late February."

She's never seen the snowpack accumulate this quickly.

"We're getting a lot of snow, and we're getting it early, and we've also doubled our snow depth over the last 30 days."

Right now, the greatest snow on earth is dense: Ten feet deep with 2 1/2 feet of snow water equivalent at that site. That's double the average amount of water in the snowpack for mid-January. Utah's snowpack typically peaks around April 1.

"The deepest it's ever been, is just under three meters. So we've already hit that near peak value, but in January."

Skiles expects it will only keep getting deeper. She visits the snow pit once a month while the snow is accumulating. When it starts to melt, she checks it once a week.

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OutdoorsUtah droughtThe WestUtahEnvironment
Jed Boal

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