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Why were drought designations dialed back slightly in southern Utah?

Posted at 5:28 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 19:28:29-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Rainstorms that caused damaging flash floods in southern Utah this week have had a positive impact on short-term drought conditions for that part of the state, prompting an assessment of “extreme” drought rather than the previous, and more severe, “exceptional” designation.

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Brad Rippey, an agricultural meteorologist with the USDA, says Utah is having a good summer for rain after a terrible 2020. He is part of a rotation of nine scientists who produce the U.S. Drought Monitor Maps.

"Last year in 2020 was effectively a monsoon failure, so it's really good news to see a robust and active monsoon circulation in 2021,” Rippey said.

The rainfall led to damaging flash floods in a number of communities, but the drought may be more to blame than the rain itself.

"Drought can actually exacerbate runoff when you get soils that are baked into almost a concrete-like consistency that can really aggravate the runoff situation in times of heavy rainfall,” said Rippey.

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Dialing back the drought assessment means southern Utah’s plants will get greener, streams will flow, and wildfire will not have as much fuel.

But it doesn’t change the long-term effects of what Rippey calls a 20-year “mega-drought.”

“Impacts such as groundwater shortages, low reservoir levels, that's going to persist,” he said.