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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A storm that was expected to move across Utah Thursday night could bring the final opportunity for dangerous spring flooding before the risk from unusually heavy mountain snowpacks begins a gradual decline, experts say.
Utah's snowpacks are shrinking to the point where the National Weather Service said Thursday it was preparing to lift many of the flood watches that have governed life for a month or more, most notably in a sweep of Utah from St. George in the southwest to Vernal in the northeast.
"I think we've dodged a bullet," said National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney, who has been monitoring flood conditions since they began to show themselves last October at the start of Utah's water year. "I think our flood scenario is basically done."
McInerney said the only Utah waterways he feared would flood but haven't so far are Coal Creek, which runs through Cedar City, and creeks of Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, which open onto the suburbs of Salt Lake City.
The Cottonwood creeks, however, could get a final chance to spill over their banks Thursday night or early Friday from rainfall, he said.
McInerney spent much of the winter briefing county emergency managers on flood conditions and making himself available for 138 interviews with news agencies as of Thursday.
The first major flood hit southern Utah in January, when a storm dumped 10-12 inches of rain in 48 hours and turned the Santa Clara river into a raging torrent that swept away or damaged about 30 houses.
Spring flooding was more widespread across Utah if less spectacular, mostly covering farmer's fields, but it seeped into basements of hundreds of houses and contributed to the drowning of at least three people.
The Sevier River was still spilling over its banks Thursday in places from its headwaters of southern Utah through a run of central Utah.
A flood watch was posted for the Logan River and streams that drain the High Uintas, Utah's tallest mountain range, where some snowpacks still contain the equivalent of 23 inches of water.
Those snowpacks, twice as deep as normal for this time of year, are melting at a rate of 1-2 inches a day, McInerney said.
McInerney said many flood watches could be lifted by late Friday, after the storm moves through Utah. After that, he's looking for a gradual decline in mountain runoff, tempered partly by cooler temperatures.
A watch means flooding is possible but not necessarily imminent. A warning, which applies to the Sevier River, means flooding is in effect or about to begin.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)