Experts say Utah's snowpack is 55% of normal

Posted at 6:51 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 20:51:53-05

SALT LAKE CITY — Most of Utah is seeing below-average snowpack for this time of the year, which could create major challenges for the state as it continues to deal with a multi-year drought.

"Statewide, we're at about 55 percent of normal for our snowpack right now," said Jordan Clayton, supervisor for the Utah Snow Survey. "Which is obviously well below what we want to see."

Clayton said there are typically a few problem areas around the state, but that's not the case this year.

"Right now, there are unfortunately multiple regions of the state that are really in bad shape," he added.

Southern Utah has been hit especially hard by the lack of snow this year, where some areas are seeing only 40 percent of their average snowpack.

"What we need to do for Utah right now is get about 12 or so more inches of water in our snowpack," Clayton said.

He added that 12 inches may not sound like much, but it would take upwards of 100 inches of snowfall in the next few months to get back to normal ranges.

"We're going to need one storm after another to continue right through the month of February and perhaps March to even get close," said Mark Struthwolf, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Struthwolf said this year's dry conditions are being fueled by a weak La Niña pattern.

"Each day that we go through this month with no precipitation, we're just hammering at lowering that amount of water in the snow and the amount of water we have available to us," he added.

The low snowpack creates big problems statewide as Utah gets 95 percent of its water from snowfall every year.

"It's just been bone dry for so long," Clayton said. "Unfortunately, what that's going to do is it's going to reduce the runoff efficiency, meaning that when that snowpack melts, so much of it's going to just wind up soaking into the ground instead of making it into our rivers and streams."

Lack of runoff also means less water in the state's reservoir system, which could create major impacts on some of Utah's largest industries.

"Agriculture will probably see shortages, which is going to have an economic impact because we won't have those yields," said Rachel Shilton with the Division of Water Resources.

Shilton added that shortages could also mean cuts to water usage at state parks, which have seen increased demand during the pandemic.

"We may be working with some parks divisions and saying, 'Let's close down part of the campground because we won't have water to supply to those campers,'" she added.

The Division of Water Resources is asking people to start thinking about their water usage now, before the hotter and typically drier months of late spring and summer. Shilton suggested delaying any upcoming landscaping projects, and instead upgrading home appliances to those that follow water-wise standards.

"Our water use is not just a short-term issue," Shilton added. "We need to really adapt water conservation practices as our population grows."