Hydrologist says recent warm temperatures melted 20-30 percent of Utah’s snowpack

Posted at 6:27 PM, Mar 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-10 20:27:23-05

KAMAS, Utah – The 2015-2016 winter started as the one that might break a multi-year drought, with storms early on filling mountains with snow. But now that snow is disappearing.

Brian McInerney, a hydrologist for Utah with the National Weather Service, said warm temperatures melted about 20 to 30 percent of the snowpack off of the Wasatch Mountains. It’s left the snowpack level at 80 to 85 percent of normal, which is still good, but not as good as it could be.

“What we had hoped, and what we had dreaded, occurred,” McInerney said. “For the past four years prior to this year, we have been plagued by a high pressure system setting up over the western U.S., and it doesn’t leave.”

McInerney said the lower snowpack is particularly disappointing because conditions in December and January were so positive. The El Nino pattern brought storm after storm. Now, he said, a high pressure system west of Utah is pushing those storms north.

“It does what it does,” McInerney said. “It reduces the snowpack, it melts prematurely, and we’re faced with below-average water supply conditions.

McInerney said current projections put Utah’s water levels at between 60 and 70 percent of what they’d expect coming off the mountains this spring.

The low snowpack is also a concern for outdoor enthusiasts. Snowmobiler Brandon Ralston said the loss of snow is heartbreaking.

“The first word that comes to my mind is: Depressing,” Ralstron said. “When I first came there was twice the snow that’s here now, and usually this time of year that’s the best snowmobiling.”

McInerney said there’s still a slim chance we can recover, but it would take about 10 storms with about a foot of snow each to make up the loss.