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A Good Start For Utah’s ‘Water Year’ But No Guarantee Drought's Ending

Photo of snowy mountain scene
Casey Sutcliffe/USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Christmas Week storms are adding to a better-than-average start to the 2018-2019 water year. This was the scene near the NRCS’s Snotel measuring site at Brighton, Utah, last weekend, before storms dumped 14 inches of snow in the area.";

Sporadic storms since Thanksgiving have resulted in precipitation levels throughout Utah that are, in general, above normal for the beginning of the year. It’s a welcome trend following the state’s driest year on record.

But Troy Brosten, a hydrologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the real measure will be the snow and rain that actually falls in the months ahead.


“Hopefully, it just keeps coming,” he said. “We really wanna see more snow and more storms coming through come January, February and March – even April, if possible.”


What’s called the “ water year” begins Oct. 1. According to National Weather Service data in the 2018-19 water year to date, precipitation at the Salt Lake City monitoring site has been just under 4.5 inches, about 1/3 of an inch above normal.

One high point is the Provo-Jordan River basin, that logged 5.5 inches of precipitation through mid-December, compared to 1.2 inches last year in the same time period, said Brosten. Another, he added, is southeastern Utah, where precipitation has been around 50 percent higher than normal in many areas. The precipitation has eased the “exceptional” drought that’s plagued southeastern Utah this year.


“Starting out, we are certainly doing much better than last year,” he said.


Brosten said storms in mid-November and this week would be a big help coming out of the driest year on record. But Utah will need at least an average year of snow and rain to replenish the state’s drought-ravaged reservoirs, he said.


Long-term forecasts have suggested an El Niño event could bring more precipitation to southern Utah. Brosten, however, is cautious about reading too much into the projections.

He said he did his own analysis of times in the past four decades when conditions paralleled this year’s weather patterns. In two of the four years, his analysis showed the year turned out to be significantly wetter than average. The other two years, it was significantly drier than average.


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