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Recent storms aren’t changing the ‘overall picture’ of Utah’s drought

Snow falls at night ahead of expected heavier snows in the Salt Lake City metro, March 8, 2022.
Brian Albers
Snow falls at night ahead of expected heavier snows in the Salt Lake City metro, March 8, 2022.

Storms have blanketed parts of Utah bringing moisture and snow at a critical time. However, the latest weather events aren’t making a significant dent on the drought.

“We'll take certainly anything that we can get,” said Alex DeSmet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. “It improved the statewide snow water equivalent by like 5%. While it's an improvement, it wasn't enough to change the overall picture of the water supply going into the spring.”

Almost all of the state is in a severe drought and DeSmet said the outlook for the coming months is most likely above average temperatures and below average precipitation.

There’s some good news: Soil moisture is higher than it was this time last year — when it hit historic lows. DeSmet said that means there will be more efficient water runoff. That could help with reservoir storage, which relies on runoff. Though, reservoir water levels are lower this year than last.

“To erase the deficits,” he said, “we would need to end the winter much above average, [which] looks unlikely.”

It’s still fairly early to know what this all means for wildfires this year, according to Kayli Yardley, a prevention specialist with Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands. She said it depends on drying trends such as humidity, temperature and fuel moisture.

“Our grasses are light, flashy fuels and you'll start to see those start to go yellow a lot quicker, a lot sooner. And as soon as those dry out, they become that potential fire hazard,” she said. “That's where we run into our problems.”

In 2020, Utah experienced a historic fire season, over 75% of fires were started by people. Fire officials were preparing for another bad year in 2021, and there were some early season fires due to the critically dry conditions. Monsoonal storms helped dampen the risk of fires later in the season.

Yardley emphasized that fire season is thought of as a year-long event. Southern Utah saw fires as early as March last year, and she said people should be aware of the fire potential.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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