OGDEN -- The 2-plus inches of rainfall the Ogden/Northern Wasatch mountains received over the weekend were welcome, bringing the area back up to its monthly average for May.
But the total wasn't enough to turn the tide on a snowpack that has been shrinking in the Rocky Mountains for the last three decades, according to a British environmental report.
"It was a good, soaking rain. I'm sure it will help irrigators and reservoir storage. Every little bit helps," National Weather Service meteorologist Larry Dunn said of the three-day rainfall.
"We have been having a dry May, and this will bring some of those areas up," said Dunn, pointing out that Snow Basin at its midmountain elevation received about 2.4 inches of rain over the weekend.
Dunn said that total will help the watershed in that area.
But the bad news is, according to a recent environmental study out of London, the Rocky Mountains are warming.
The study states around 20 percent of the snow cover in North America's greatest mountain range has been lost because of warmer springs in the last three decades.
Scientists from the American Geophysical Union and the U.S. Geological Survey report that they had established a pattern of snowfall in the northern and southern Rockies: When the snowpack was large in the northern Rockies, it might be correspondingly meager in the southern mountains and vice versa.
But since the 1980s, snowpack declines have occurred simultaneously along the entire length of the Rocky Mountains, with unusually severe declines in the north.
Runoff from the Rocky Mountain snows accounts for 60 to 80 percent of the annual water supply for more than 70 million people in the western United States.
The researchers blame both natural variation -- the influence of cyclic Pacific Ocean phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina, for example -- and global warming from human activity for the change.
"Regardless of the ultimate causes, continuation of present snowpack trends in the Rocky Mountains will pose difficult challenges for watershed management and conventional water planning in the American West," said co-author Julio Betancourt.
One local snowpack surveyor saids the state of Utah continually needs to look for ways to conserve its water resources, but he questions the time period in which the London report measured.
With any study conducted on snowpack, the result of the percentage of decrease will be determined by the period of time in which the study measures, said Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
"Where in time did they start the study, and when did they end it?" Julander asked. He said a full analysis of the time period since snow pack records were kept, the late 1920s to early 30s, reveals snow totals being down between 3 to 5 percent over those years, he said.
"If you look at the entire period of record, you come up with a much smaller number," Julander said of the percentage of decline in snowpack.
But that is not to discount the importance of the snow pack and its melt, which makes up 95 to 99 percent of Utah's watershed, Julander said.
"In the short run, it is not so much temperatures that bother us, it is the amount of snowfall (received)," Julander said.
Short-wave solar radiation -- sunlight -- accounts for 60 to 70 percent of what melts the snowpack, he said.
"An increase in temperatures does not mean that we'll have snowpacks totally disappearing. Precipitation increases can offset any increases in temperature," Julander said.
But according to the London environmental news report, "from 1980 on, warmer spring temperatures melted snowpack throughout the Rockies early, regardless of winter precipitation," said Greg Pederson of the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Bozeman, Mont.
"The model in turn shows temperature as the major driving factor in snowpack declines over the past 30 years," Pederson said.
Utah has experienced droughts, Julander said, and he expects it will encounter droughts in the future.
Water is a very finite resource, and the state continues to add more stresses to its system, one of those stresses being the state's increasing population, Julander said.
But climate change is not one of those things that instantaneously happens, Julander said. "This is one of those things we have time to address."
In the meantime, Julander said, conservation is the best defense in ensuring there is enough water to go around.
Tim Radford, with the Climate News Network, contributed to this report. Climate News Network is a news service led by four veteran British environmental reporters and broadcasters.