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Utah making up ground in battle against drought

Posted at 6:27 AM, Jan 16, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is making up ground in its battle against the drought.

Consistent, large storms in December and January has Utah’s snowpack water at around 190% of normal.

“If we only received two more inches statewide average on the ground we would get to what our typical peak would be,” said Jordan Clayton, the supervisor of the Utah Snow Survey. “This is the winter we have been waiting for. This is a really big one.”

Clayton and his team dissect the data they receive hourly that measures the amount of water in Utah’s snow. So far, 2023 is on pace to rank among some of the best in history.

“We haven't seen the conditions on the ground like this in almost 20 years,” Clayton said. “2011 was outstanding. We are starting to surpass 2011 as a state.”

Even better news is that Utah’s historically wettest months of March and April are still to come.

In the above average snowpack year of 2011, storms started early in the winter and kept coming through the early spring. The same is true of 2005, another above average year.

While this is a good sign as Utah tries to find its way out of the drought, it isn’t the end.

“I don’t want people to think we are out of the drought, we have a ways to go,” Clayton said.

According to Laura Haskell, the drought coordinator for the Utah Division of Water Resources, if the active weather trend continues this winter, Utah can make up for the abnormally dry years of 2021 and 2022.

The Great Salt Lake may not reap all the benefits from this snowy winter.

Haskell says about a third of the water in the lake comes directly from precipitation.

However, the lake may not see much water from runoff. That water first replenishes reservoirs.

“The upstream reservoirs are trying to refill,” Haskell said. “We are trying to get more water in those for our summer use and things. Some of it will get to the Great Salt lake, but not everything we are seeing in the snowpack will make it to the Great Salt Lake.”

No matter how good, one winter isn’t going to erase years of drought.

2023 has already pulled Utah out of exceptional drought conditions with about 80 days remaining in the snow season.

A positive step that hopefully becomes the state’s new normal.

“All snow is good snow,” Clayton said. “We will take anything we can get.”