Estimated reading time: 3-4 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY – There was a flurry of excitement on Monday among weather watchers in Utah due to the snow and rain that has already arrived and the fact that there is more to the forecast. Due to the prolonged drought, the region really needs a snowy winter.
At this time, the snow cover in almost all basins in the state is well above average. But at this time of the season, it doesn’t take a lot of snow on the ground to be above average. Snow Survey Supervisor in Utah has a number in mind that would dent the drought.
“That’s great,” hydrologist Jordan Clayton said of the snow so far. “We are starting well and early with our snow cover. We are seeing a very good increase in our snow water totals, and it is good to see.”
While the snow cover looks promising in the first week of November, Clayton is quick to remind everyone that snow cover numbers and snow water equivalents don’t mean much at this early snow season.
“Normally, we only have a very small amount of snow equivalent on the mountain, or snow depth,” he said. “When we get an early storm like this, it blows up those percentages to these extreme numbers that aren’t really useful and are a little silly, like 500% normal doesn’t really make sense.”
Those numbers mean deeper into the season when they provide perspective. But given the circumstances of a prolonged drought, he is optimistic about the good start of the water year.
“It’s nice to get this first push of the snowpack onto the ground in October,” Clayton said.
Part of the snow that fell over the past week is already melting at medium and low altitudes.
We want to get about 150% of normal statewide rainfall. So, if we can hit that benchmark, it will do a really good job of getting closer to making up for the multi-year deficit we’ve found ourselves in at this point.
–Jordan Clayton, Utah snow survey supervisor
“It’s also okay because we expect a lot more snow to arrive, and this helps to increase our soil moisture, which has also decreased slightly,” the hydrologist said. “So good news everywhere.”
As for water storage, the average capacity of the reservoir across the state is 42%.
“That doesn’t include Powell and Flaming Gorge. So, we really need to do well from a snow cover perspective to increase some of those total reservoirs to bring a lot of water into our system,” Clayton said.
What would it take to make a dent in the drought?
“This is the number to put in your head,” said the hydrologist. “We want to get about 150 percent of normal statewide rainfall. So if we can hit that benchmark, we’ll do a great job getting closer to catching up on the multi-year deficit we’ve found ourselves in at this point.”
He admits it’s an important number, but Utah had near-record snow cover in 2011 and 2017.
“From a statewide level, about 150 percent normal, this will really help a lot,” Clayton said. “There is a lot of snow, but I think we can do it.”
Utah needs the snow to keep coming. Clayton pointed out that we had a good start last year which faded in January. He is confident that the weather this year offers more promising models.