Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Utah's Drought Picture Continues To Improve After Stormy February

Judy Fahys / KUER
Ranchers in the Four Corners region, including San Juan County shown here, had to start feeding their livestock hay last summer because the forage on the range was so poor. Many had to buy hay through the winter because their own supplies were so meager.

February’s wet weather has helped ease drought’s grip on Utah, as heavier than normal rain and snow have resulted in a statewide snowpack that’s at normal or better.

The latest U.S. Drought Monitor, published Thursday, shows most of the state with some dryness or drought but no areas in the worst categories of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. The state’s southwestern corner has been officially drought-free since the end of February, the first time in more than a year that at least a patch of the state is not unusually dry.

Image of drought monitor.For the first time in more than a year, a part of Utah is drought-free. Washington County in southwest Utah lost even the lowest rating, "abnormally dry," in late February, according to the latest data contained in the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Credit U.S. Drought Monitor

Edit | Remove

Utah’s river basins continue to recover this winter after a severely dry summer — the driest on record and one of the hottest, said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

“Utah, for the most part, has healed up quite well,” he said. “And, if things keep going the way we surmise, then we should be out of drought category by the end of spring.”

A report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service called last month’s double-the-normal precipitation “fantastic.” Snowpack is up to 120 percent of normal in northern Utah basins and as much as 162 percent of normal in the southern basins.

McInerney said stormy weather is forecasted for at least another two weeks, and that will help fill all but the largest reservoirs, such as Lake Powell and Bear Lake. More cold, wet weather through the spring would be ideal, he said.

Southeastern Utah had a drought bullseye through much of last summer and fall, and the rain and snow has been welcome throughout the Four Corners. Just across the Utah-Colorado border from San Juan County in Cortez, Colo., hay farmer Danny Decker harvested just half of his normal spring crop because of the lack of rain. The drought cut the fall growing season by almost two months.

He said the 1,800 acres he farms is muddy now.

“I was talking to somebody the other day [and] I said: ‘You know I’m not complainin’ about the mud. I’m braggin’ about it,’” Decker recalled with a laugh.

Even if the precipitation slows, the soil should be saturated enough to guarantee a good crop for him and other farmers in the region, he said.

“As soon as it warms up, things will green up,” Decker said.

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.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.