Big February snowpack boosts northern Utah water outlook

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 4:02 PM

Mitch Shaw, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Drink up — a late winter recovery has the Top of Utah water supply in good shape as springtime nears.

According to the 2014 Utah Water Supply Outlook Report, released Thursday by the Utah Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack has substantially increased over the past month, with the Weber and Ogden River Basins already at 98 percent of normal.

Last year at this time, snowpack in the basins was only 73 percent of normal.

The NRCS says northern Utah mountain precipitation in February was 158 percent of normal, which brings the seasonal accumulation total to 89 percent of average.

The precipitation also took snowpack levels at the Bear River and Weber River drainages from 75 percent of normal to between 100 and 110 percent.

“That is a bases loaded, bottom of the ninth home run,” said Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS. “It’s been an amazing recovery.”

Julander said the February watershed miracle was much needed, as precipitation in each of the previous four months was below average.

“We were looking at a situation where there would have been a water shortage for farmers and agriculture producers all across northern Utah,” Julander said. “But now, we’re in pretty good shape.”

And things in Cache County are even better.

A monitoring station in Logan Canyon received 20 inches of snow water equivalent during the past 30 days, which is more than the average annual precipitation of Salt Lake City.

Julander said the precipitation is coming from a weather pattern known as “Pineapple Express,” which comes from deep in the Pacific Ocean and drenches the atmosphere with moisture as it moves east.

“Northern Utah was kind of right in its path,” he said.

And Julander said the wet weather is expected to hang around for a little while longer.

“What’s happened so far has really taken the edge off,” he said. “But it looks like this weather pattern is going to hold for a little while and if it holds until say, the beginning of April, we’ll be sitting pretty.”

The report also says soil moisture conditions are near normal for northern Utah and reservoir storage continues to incrementally improve.

Julander said water managers are storing as much as possible, but there is still less water in northern Utah reservoirs than there was last year, with reservoir storage at 41 percent of capacity, compared to 54 percent last year.

The report also says snowmelt will start earlier than normal this year, thanks to above average temperatures throughout much of February.

Most of the annual streamflow in the western United States originates as snowfall that has accumulated in the mountains during the winter and early spring.

As the snowpack accumulates, hydrologists estimate the runoff that will occur when it melts. Measurements of snow water equivalent at selected manual snowcourses and automated “SNOTEL sites,” along with precipitation, historic streamflow, and indices of the Southern Oscillation are used in statistical and simulation models to prepare runoff forecasts.

Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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