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Utah's snow pack looks good, but long-term trend 'scary,' says Utah hydrologist retiring after 30 years

Posted at 7:08 PM, Apr 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 21:40:16-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Brian McInerney with the National Weather Service has one more week until retirement.

Tuesday, McInerney spent the day digging snow pits to measure the snowpack density.

“It’s okay,” said McInerney. “It could be better, but think it’s doable.”

Looking at the snow density and temperature, McInerney can determine the snow ripeness—meaning he can see how ready the snow is to melt.

“We won’t see big flows right away, it’s just going to start ripening the snow pack,” said McInerney.

Spring runoff is looking below average this year, after such a dry and hot season last year.

McInerney said runoff will first soak into the soil before heading downstream.

“If we have a little bit below average runoff, that’s still okay because the reservoir stores are in such good shape,” said McInerney.

Reservoirs are 80 to 90 percent full, said McInerney, which is a great place for Utah to be.

Since he started work as an intern in 1989, McInerney said the trends have shown periods of wet years, but the overall trend shows drying.

“The long term picture for Utah is getting hotter and dryer,” said McInerney. “I think we should just adapt a strategy to conserve what water we have and use it wisely.”

The dry trends will eventually result in a more dramatic atmosphere causing very hot and dry summers, then very cold and wet winters.

“I worry about that for the future,” said McInerney.

This is a slow moving change, said McInerney, and hydrologists will likely be dealing with a whole new climate in Utah—much different from the one he’s studied for the past 30 years.