SALT LAKE CITY -- Communities across Utah are preparing for floods as temperatures this week heat up into the 90s and mountain snowpack starts a rapid melt, but officials say previous fears of major damage will likely be avoided.
The National Weather Service has issued flood watches for most of central and northern Utah along stretches of Little Cottonwood Creek, Big Cottonwood Creek, and the Weber, Provo, Duchesne and Bear rivers. Several areas are already above flood stage.
Mountain snowpack in some areas is up to 500 percent above normal levels. Officials have been warning for weeks of the potential for major flooding if the weather warmed rapidly, but they now say much of the snow has melted gradually over time and the major threats are gone.
"We feel we've reduced a good chunk of the snowpack that has melted off the past week, but we still have enough to create floods," said Brian McInerney, a National Weather Service hydrologist. "The hot temperatures have arrived and we still have a sizeable snowpack, but it's not the monstrous snowpack that we had two weeks ago."
McInerney said most residents should expect just minor to moderate flooding. He said some areas will very likely see water damage to homes and structures close to waterways, as well as flooded fields. Erosion has also already started causing some damage to structures downstream along the Duchesne River.
If the same amount of snow remained in the mountains as was there just two weeks ago, McInerney said, "We would have seen major, widespread flooding, but we're not."
Still, officials and residents across the state are preparing by piling sandbags around homes and along river and creek banks. And water remains high and fast-flowing, creating dangerous conditions.
Since May 29, six people have drowned in Utah rivers. This week, a 2-year-old boy nearly drowned in the Virgin River near Zion National Park. He remained hospitalized Thursday in Salt Lake City, and doctors were optimistic about his recovery.