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The forecasts for Utah’s monsoon season are in. And it’s not very good news

Monsoon season helped keep drought at bay last year with timely late summer rain, as seen in this Sept. 12, 2023 photo of St. George. This summer, however, the forecast doesn’t look so promising.
David Condos
/
KUER
Monsoon season helped keep drought at bay last year with timely late summer rain, as seen in this Sept. 12, 2023 photo of St. George. This summer, however, the forecast doesn’t look so promising.

The outlook for this summer’s monsoon season shows Utah’s recent stretch of wetter-than-normal years may soon come to an end.

Below-average rainfall and above-average heat is in store between July and September, according to forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That’s bad news for water supplies, drought conditions and wildfire risk in an already dry state. But exactly where the worst localized impacts will be won’t be known until later in the summer, said Jon Meyer, assistant state climatologist with the Utah Climate Center.

“That will be a little bit touch-and-go as the season evolves into July and August. But at this point, overall, the region is expected to have an underperforming monsoon.”

Utah’s summer rainy season is also expected to show up late — likely two or three weeks behind its usual July onset. Early signs of monsoonal activity, he said, should already be forming in Mexico.

“They should be seeing afternoon thunderstorms across the mountains right now, and that really hasn't materialized. So it's behind getting out of the gate. … I think that is confirming our fears.”

The delay is largely due to lingering soil moisture from the past two wet years, which keeps the monsoon weather pattern from starting. The above-average heat Utah experienced this June may dry out the dirt a bit, he said, but likely not enough — or not quickly enough — to negate the effects of that moisture.

Last year’s summer rains were also delayed. But when they finally arrived, they brought enough moisture to turn things around in a hurry.

“I'm remaining optimistic that that might save our bacon this year with the delayed start expected again,” Meyer said. “But we have quite a few indicators right now suggesting that won't happen.”

One of those indicators is the cycle of water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, the phenomenon that creates El Niño and La Niña weather patterns.

Forecasts still expect that cycle to shift to La Niña in the months ahead — which could theoretically boost monsoon rains — but Meyer said that transition has been delayed, too. So La Niña will arrive too late to have much impact.

“It dragged its feet just enough. … So we're missing out on that ingredient as well.”

With the outlook for La Niña and other global atmospheric patterns not as favorable as they were last year, he said it’s likely Utah will only see sporadic rainfall — rather than the steady storms of summer 2023.

This map shows the summer precipitation forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Utah is expected to see drier-then-normal conditions, paired with above-average heat.
National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration
This map shows the summer precipitation forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Utah is expected to see drier-then-normal conditions, paired with above-average heat.

For Utah communities, this return to a drier cycle could have big impacts. For one, Meyer said it’ll likely allow drought to creep back in.

“We've seen some whispers of drought expansion in southern and eastern Utah thanks to their dry and warmer spring. So what we're very much focused on right now is how our summer pattern will evolve and affect drought conditions.”

That’s a particularly worrying thought for the desert region around St. George, where water is already hard to come by.

“Monsoon rain for southwest Utah is actually very profound and has a huge effect upon our water supply,” said Washington County Water Conservancy District General Manager Zach Renstrom. “It's something very critical that we count on.”

It’s vital, partly, because of its timing.

Monsoons typically hit southern Utah in July and August. Those months often have some of the hottest days of the year and ramped up demand for local water supplies — often for outdoor irrigation to keep grass and crops alive.

When it rains, people tend to turn off their sprinklers. To promote that mindset, he said the district offers a rebate on smart irrigation controllers, which use local weather data to help residents adjust their watering schedule.

“If we can save a gallon of water, we have the ability to save that water for multiple years. … So we always preach, ‘Hey, turn off your sprinklers.’”

Without the rain, however, pressure on local water supplies will inevitably rise. The area’s reservoirs are filled and ready to handle that demand this year, Renstrom said. That doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be lasting impacts.

As water storage gets drawn down from increased use, his thoughts turn to refilling it with future runoff from snowpack. But a poor monsoon season could hurt those chances, too.

That’s because soil that gets parched this year might soak up next year’s runoff before the water flows down to replenish reservoirs.

“It makes me actually very nervous about the following year,” Renstrom said.

“If we don't get a good monsoon rain this year, not only does it affect this year, but it'll actually affect the next summer. So it almost has a year-long effect.”

David Condos is KUER’s southern Utah reporter based in St. George.
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