So far, Utah snowpack levels in the mountains are about double what they were at the same time last year — and it’s hoped to stay that way.
The amount of water in snowpack is what determines how much runoff there is in the spring, and subsequently, how full Utah’s reservoirs will be in the summer.
Snowpack levels are therefore monitored closely throughout the year by the Snow Survey staff, who work out of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Salt Lake City.
The data is gathered through the SNOTEL network, composed of equipment in high-elevation watersheds to measure snow pack, precipitation, temperature and other climatic conditions.
What reservoir managers are most interested in is the amount of water in the snow itself.
“Fresh snow, a foot of fresh snow usually amounts to roughly one inch of water, said Troy Brosten, a hydrologist with the Snow Survey. “But as the snow falls on it, it will pack down, so the older the snowpack is, the more water it has.”
After monitoring the snowpack data all winter, the National Water and Climate Center will use that data to create a forecast for the amount of runoff to be expected, Brosten said. That way reservoir managers can start making water management plans for the summer.
Last year was an exceptionally sparse year as far as snow pack.
“In the Provo/Jordan River area, you’re looking right now at about five and a half inches of snowpack and water up there,” Brosten said. “Last year at this time, it was about two inches of water. So currently we’re doing significantly better in that basin than last year.”
Though it looks significantly better, the snowpack this year in the Provo/Jordan river basin is hovering right about normal as far as the 30-year average is concerned. Based on the most current snow pack measurements, areas in the Provo River, Utah Lake and Jordan River drainage are hovering anywhere from 94 to 135 percent the average levels.
The percentages vary by drainage basin — some of the basins down south are having a tougher year.
While having a normal year of snowpack will help bring many of the smaller reservoirs back to where they need to be, Brosten said, an above-average year would be ideal.
“More snow would be better,” he said. “It would help ensure we see improvement in all the reservoirs.”
But for now, there’s no way to tell for sure what the rest of the winter will bring.
“It’s early in the year,” Brosten said. “We’ll see what happens. It looks good right now, but it could easily go either way. We have a lot of months to go.”