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2016: Hot And Dry In Utah

Judy Fahys
Sunset in southeastern Utah's desert last summer.

Last year was the warmest on record globally. And, while Salt Lake City had a hot one too, it wasn’t a record breaker.

It’s hard to remember how hot and dry 2016 was because Utah’s been so snowy and cold. But the National Weather Service says Salt Lake City just ended its 3rd warmest year.

At an average 56.2 degrees, last year was only slightly cooler than the hottest year on record, 2012 with an average temperature of 56.6.

“It's really been periods of hot and dry interspersed with very active, very wet weather,” says Brian McInerney of the National Weather Service’s Salt Lake City office.

December was the only cooler-than-normal month last year. Meanwhile, 17 daily heat records were broken, most of them nighttime lows in the summer.

“We had the hottest [nighttime] temperature we've ever recorded since we've been keeping records back to 1874, and that was 81 degrees in Salt Lake City,” says McInerney. “It never cooled off that night. We had 21 consecutive days of 95 degrees and above.”

2016 also meant a fifth year of drought -- punctuated by intense rain and snowfall. But the data can be a little confusing because averages like the one logged in September.

There were some little, small towns in central Utah that almost had their annual precipitation in one day,” says McInerney, “and that can skew the average.”

“Now we’ve moved into 2017 and it's been cooler than normal and it's been incredibly wet and the snowpack is fabulous. So it's kind of like let's turn our back to 2016 and look forward to 2017.”

He says shifting climate patterns make it hard to know if the trend of extremes will continue. And long-term forecasts aren’t equipped to say for sure how this year’s weather will play out.

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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