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Weekend Storm Gives Welcomed Boost to Utah Snowpack

Don Sharaf
American Avalanche Institute

Rain and snow drenched northern Utah this weekend, bringing moisture that will make a big difference in spring and summer. 

Randy Julander works for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. He monitors Utah’s snowpack. He also watches water levels in Utah’s streams and reservoirs with an eye on what that means for irrigation and drinking water. Last week his office reported that snowpack was just 75 percent of normal statewide. Julander says key reservoirs were less than half full.

“Low reservoir storage -- equate that in financial terms, that is money in the bank, our savings," he says. "And poor snowpack, that’s what we typically have as our paycheck coming in. You combine the two of them as both being bad, and our water supply outlook was rather bleak.”

Over the weekend, the skies bathed the mountains surrounding the Salt Lake Valley in an average of three inches of water. Tony Grove Lake near Logan had 7 inches of water equivalent. That’s about half the average annual rainfall in Salt Lake City. Precipitation like that means life in the valleys will be greener.

“What’s nice is we just got a big fat raise in our paycheck, and so we are expecting a lot more to come down this spring," says Julander. "Hopefully we will be able to put some of that in our savings account, in our reservoirs.”

Jim Steenburgh is an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah and an avid skier. He spent part of the weekend reveling in the nearly three feet of new snow dumped in the Cottonwood canyons. But Steenburgh says we still need more precipitation to get back to normal water levels.

“At this point now, we’ve at least caught up to average in a few places such the western Uintas and the Bear River range area," he says. "But still other parts of the state are still behind.  And we really need to keep the spigot open.”

The National Weather Service forecast calls for another storm to begin Wednesday.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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