Snowpack in Utah approaches record levels

Posted at 6:43 PM, Feb 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-03 20:43:18-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Snowpack levels are approaching record levels along the Wasatch Front.

2011 and 2005 were the National Weather Service's record-setting snow pack years.

Hydrologist Brian McInerney said he does not believe we will surpass the record this year, but he does want to see the snow keep falling for the next few months. He said we are over 1.5 times what we typically have in Utah.

"We are roughly about 160, 165 percent of median," McInerney said. "If you slide south around Provo we are even larger with 180 percent of median, and farther south at the Virgin River basin, Washington County, we are about 200 percent of median. We have a ways to go, we had really good snow in December and then exceptional snow, about 300 percent precipitation, during that time in the mountains, that’s what really pumped up our snowpack."

He said we will not get out of the drought right away, but this year has helped considerably.

"The snowpack we have right now is going to put a really good dent in the drought, with one condition: if we can continue snowing for the rest of February, March and a little bit into April, we will do really well," McInerney said. "We fill a lot of the middle-sized to small reservoirs, and most likely it will take multiple years to fill Bear Lake and Lake Powell--maybe ten or more years."

The other hope is that the snowpack, once it's built up high, will stick around.

"You want really cool, wet weather in the spring to get really good runoff," McInerney said. "If we start melting early, say we start melting in March, we can lose up to 50 percent of our snowpack to evaporation transportation: it just goes away. We are below average runoff, so we have been in a long period of very dry weather, very low run off."

While the conditions impact everyone, some groups are feeling the effects more than others.

"And the people who have felt this the most are the farmers," McInerney said. "They've been getting shorted throughout these years. When you look at the reservoir levels they are quite shocking, how low they are, and this year if we continue to put snow in the mountains that will help us out a great deal."