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Travelers and recreationists should keep an eye on Utah’s monsoonal weather

Drivers on the freeway in Salt Lake City, kicking up water during the heavy rain, May 6, 2014.
iStock/Getty Images
Drivers on the freeway in Salt Lake City, kicking up water during the heavy rain, May 6, 2014.

Utah summers are no stranger to sporadic bursts of intense weather, especially thunderstorms. It happens every year.

Usually, Utah’s monsoon season starts in early July. But Christine Kruse, the lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said the downpours paired with fierce thunder and lightning instead approached in mid-June.

“When we're in a La Niña pattern for the spring and we have near to below normal snowpack, we tend to induce stronger and earlier monsoons,” Kruse said. “And that's what we saw this year.”

Despite the desire to run outside and watch the thunderstorm in action, it’s not the smartest thing to do. To keep out of harm's way, Kruse recommends isolating in an interior room without windows

“You're much safer from lightning, from strong winds, from projectiles if you're in an interior room in your house,” Kruse said.

Monsoonal rainfall can also trigger flooding throughout the state.

Northern Utah is able to withstand flash floods better than the southern region because there’s more vegetation like grass and forests to soak up the water. Kruse said less of that material exists in the south.

Places like Zion and Capitol Reef national parks have a lot of rock, and rock doesn’t absorb moisture. Instead, “it's all running off into these small drainages like slot canyons,” Kruse said.

The heavy rainfall can also make driving along Utah roads during storms dangerous. John Gleason, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Transportation, said flooding on the roads is exacerbated by the wildfire burn scars.

Gleason said some of the most high-risk flood roads include US 6, Huntington Canyon, SR 29, and SR 20 and SR 143 near Brian Head.

The flooding from burn scars can be minimized, though, and that’s part of what the Biden administration’s recently announced PROTECT Program aims to do. Utah will gather more than $650 million over the next five years to prepare its infrastructure for severe weather.

Gleason anticipates some of that money will go toward helping Utah’s roads to withstand weather events like flash flooding.

“We can build bigger drainage infrastructure, weather monitoring technology and walls to protect the roads,” Gleason said. “So these are essential to help clear the roads as quickly as possible and get traffic moving again.”

The most recent monsoon surge is forecasted to end on Aug. 6. But odds are the monsoon patternwill extend through the middle of the month. Kruse suggests people check the weather before venturing out into recreation areas, particularly in southern Utah.

Corrected: August 13, 2022 at 10:24 AM MDT
This page has been updated with the correct spelling of Christine Kruse's name.
Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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