Paltry rainfall in April and May has left Utah with higher fire danger and reduced forage for wildlife heading into summer, the latest statewide climate and water report says.
Mountain stations recorded precipitation in May that was 31% of average, Jordan Clayton of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service in Salt Lake City said Wednesday.
“That’s terrible,” Clayton said.
April rainfall was 50% of average, and precipitation in the current water year as of June 1 is at 81% of average.
April totals were 42% in the Weber and Ogden river basins and 33% in May. The Jordan and Provo river drainages had 39% and 27% in those two months.
“We were above average going into the end of March,” Clayton said.
The snowpack melted early and soil temperatures are higher than normal.
“The soil is really drying out, and that’s an area of concern,” Clayton said, because forage is reduced and wildfire risks increase.
“I don’t necessarily want to call it a lousy water year — it’s a little bit below average,” Clayton said. “Two years ago was an abomination and last year was outstanding.”
The water runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30.
This year’s good news is that reservoir storage totals are high, at 89% of capacity, up 7% over the previous year. It’s primarily due to storage carryover from the abundant water year of 2018-19.
Reservoirs in the Ogden and Weber river drainages are at 96% of capacity.
“You can’t do much better than that in terms of carryover,” Clayton said.
Ther Utah Climate and Water Report, a product of work by Clayton’s agency and other federal departments, said by June 1 the state had received only 6 inches of precipitation in the water year. May’s total was 0.03 inches.
“This, coupled with very high temperatures, has caused a further deterioration in drought conditions and subsequent increase in fire danger,” the report said.
Utah fire officials reported recently that most wildfires so far this year have been caused by people. The state, meanwhile, is offering a wildfire prevention pledge survey to help educate people about fire dangers and causes.
The percentage of Utah under drought conditions increased to about 90% of the state in May, according to the report. Severe drought conditions exist in 15% of Utah, particularly in the eastern Uinta and lower Sevier drainages.
The last decade shows extremes in precipitation have become “a little more frequent,” Clayton said.
Of that 10 years, two were big snow years and a couple others were the worst.
Despite all the oscillation, he said, “I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to try to conserve water. That’s true in all sectors of society — municipal, lawns, households, agriculture.”