A relatively snowy February dented Utah’s deep drought trend, but the state still is far behind on the water year.
The areas of Utah classified as being in the exceptional drought category dropped by about 10% last month, although that still leaves much of the southern two-thirds of the state in exceptional or extreme drought, according to the latest reports by federal agencies.
The U.S. Drought Monitor said 86% of Utah is in extreme or exceptional drought.
By the end of February, mountain precipitation for the October-to-September water year stood at 70% of average. February’s total was 111% of average, said the March 1 report by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
But a harbinger of a potentially poor spring runoff is indicated by the statewide soil moisture level, 29% — compared to 45% in February 2020.
“These dry soils will impact the runoff efficiency,” said a report out Monday by the National Weather Service forecast office in Salt Lake City.
Given these factors, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center reported that it anticipates a runoff in the spring of 40%-60% of normal.
Utah’s reservoir storage is at 67% of capacity, which is 14% lower than last year at this time, the Conservation Service report said.
The Weather Service said the Wasatch and central Utah mountains have received 50%-70% of normal precipitation so far in the water year. February’s totals reached 90%-150%.
The statewide annual snowpack to date is at about 75% of normal, the Weather Service said. Readings in the state’s large river basins included the Bear River (78%), Weber-Ogden (72%) and Provo-Utah-Jordan (73%).
All the below-normal readings could affect the agricultural growing season, with greater irrigation required at a time when reservoirs are drawn down already.
The state also can expect above-normal wildfire dangers if the drought conditions persist, the Weather Service said, especially in the southern regions that have been under severe long-term drought.