Weather service issues flood watch; Utah cities brace for spring warmup

Alanna Lee and Kaitlyn Cunningham look at the ducks as flood water overtakes the road at Sugar House Park on Wednesday. The park remains closed to vehicles because of flooding.

Alanna Lee and Kaitlyn Cunningham look at the ducks as flood water overtakes the road at Sugar House Park on Wednesday. The park remains closed to vehicles because of flooding. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The National Weather Service on Friday issued a flood watch for three waterways in northern Utah, as high temperatures jump back into the 70s and 80s this weekend and into early next week.

The agency issued flood watches for:

  • Little Bear River by Paradise, beginning Friday evening
  • East Canyon Creek near Jeremy Ranch in Summit County, and places downstream of Echo Reservoir, beginning Saturday evening
  • The Lower Weber River by Plain City, beginning Saturday

All three watches will remain in effect "until further notice," as the warmer temperatures are expected to speed up the snowmelt process. The agency says minor flooding is expected in the areas near all three waterways, including golf courses, farmland and other areas adjacent to the streams.

The update comes after the weather service issued a hydrologic outlook that advises there is a "high chance of localized flooding" in some of northern Utah's mid-elevation watersheds, as streams, creeks, and rivers all over the state are expected to experience "significant rises" this weekend into early next week.

Cities across the Wasatch Front are preparing for higher stream flows and potentially more flooding in the coming days because of the forecast.

A 'spring heatwave'

The next high-pressure system is beginning to move over the Great Basin, producing what KSL meteorologist Matt Johnson calls a "spring heatwave." The current forecast calls for temperatures to jump 15 to 25 degrees above normal between Saturday and Wednesday, with highs reaching into the mid-to-upper 80s by Sunday.

The issue is that while half of the Southwestern Utah basin's 28.6-inch snowpack has already melted since the first week of April, the snowpack basins around the Wasatch Mountains and West Uintas haven't changed much entering this week.

Storms over the past few weeks have kept temperatures low enough and even added additional snow, so much so that only 3% to 12% of the state's six northernmost snowpack basins have melted, as of Thursday afternoon. That means there is a lot of water left to melt into the creeks, streams and rivers that flow through the Wasatch Front, Cache and Tooele valleys, as well as the Uinta Basin.

"We've got to be a little concerned here," Johnson said.

While the flood watch only affects three waterways, Johnson points out that weather service hydrographs project larger streamflow spikes that may exceed flood stages all across the Wasatch Front next week, resulting in similar minor flooding concerns in the region.

"It's going to hurt a little but we've got to get (the snowpack) down. We've got to get it down some way," he said. "Right now, we're looking at an extreme high in the temperature for this weekend."

Preparing for the higher water levels

Communities along the Wasatch Front are bracing for stronger streamflows in the coming days. For example, the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities said Thursday that it has sandbags staged at various locations in the city "for quick deployment" if needed.

Laura Briefer, the department's director, said the city anticipates having the capacity to "accommodate the forecasted stream flows" at the moment, but both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County water experts will "continue monitoring and cleaning the drainage system around the clock."

Salt Lake City has already dealt with flooding this month from snowmelt that has taken place this season. A large piece of metal clogged a flood control culvert along Emigration Creek near Wasatch Hollow Park, resulting in flooding that caused 40 homes to be voluntarily evacuated on April 12.

"We continue to encourage residents to familiarize themselves with flood zones and to reach out if they see creeks backing up or grates clogged by debris," Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said.

Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City is one of the tools being used to help prevent flooding. It remains closed to vehicle traffic as its retention pond fills up. The pond is a catch basin designed to collect additional flows from Parleys Creek so that it doesn't flood homes and businesses in the area.

A park bench is surrounded by floodwater at Sugarhouse Park on Wednesday.
A park bench is surrounded by floodwater at Sugarhouse Park on Wednesday. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Cleanup crews also spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning clearing debris in American Fork Canyon, so that the river can flow more efficiently and potentially avoid flooding. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox traveled to American Fork on Wednesday to announce a new partnership with LiveView Technologies, which will install about 20 surveillance cameras that will be used to track possible spring runoff flooding across the state.

The Central Utah Water Conservancy District also opened the floodgates of a facility by the Point of the Mountain on Tuesday to allow for 50 million gallons of water to flow into the Jordan River as a way to reduce flooding severity in the region, while also sending the water to the struggling Great Salt Lake.

Meanwhile, the strong streamflows are expected to be "cold and extremely dangerous," the National Weather Service warns. Richard Boden, the emergency manager for the Salt Lake City Fire Department, said Thursday that Utahns should avoid getting near any high-moving waterways this weekend.

"The streams are flowing fast, may be deep and are very cold," he said. "Do not go in the water (and) keep your children and pets safe."

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for


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