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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Utah climate experts see improvements in precipitation coming this winter

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Utah Avalanche Forecast Center
Experts predict most of Utah will have normal precipitation this winter, however they’re unsure if that will take the form of snow or rain.

Utah is heading into winter, which is a vital time for precipitation that could eventually improve water levels. Researchers at the Utah Climate Center at Utah State University say above-normal precipitation is expected for much of the state over the next few months.

“We're not going to bust out of this drought off of one season of snowpack, even if it's average to slightly above average,” Jon Meyer, a climatologist at the center, said. “So we're not expecting a dramatic improvement next spring and summer, but we are expecting some improvement.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also declared this to be a La Niña winter, which means a drier desert winter in the Southwest U.S. Meyer and other researchers say the quasi-decadal oscillation is a more accurate predictor for what the outlook will be for northern Utah. It’s just a statistical indicator of precipitation signals.

Meyer said La Niña impacts southern Utah — including Lake Powell — the state’s largest reservoir. It’s been one of the hardest hit bodies of water, and there will likely not be any rebound in water levels there.

Though, Meyer said anything that’s close to normal is good news for the state, which is in the midst of a historic drought. In March, Gov. Spencer Cox issued a state of emergency because of the dry conditions.

Brian Steed, the executive director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources, reported on the drought to an interim legislative committee on Wednesday. Earlier this fall, he asked legislators to extend the emergency declaration.

“Forty-eight of 97 reporting streams are below normal,” Steed said. “I think that just shows how far in deficit we were at the beginning of the water year and how far we still need to go in order to get out of the current drought.”

Meyer said last year there was “inefficient” spring runoff because of record dry soils. The precipitation that did come was mostly absorbed into the earth. However summer and fall storms across the state have helped the dehydrated ground.

“We've got in many places record amounts of soil moisture,” he said. “That means that what does melt this spring is likely to translate into reservoir recharge, which is where we need it, because our reservoirs are really hurting after the last two years.”

Currently, statewide reservoir storage is at 49%. This time last year, they were at 62% capacity.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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