It may have seemed like a wet winter, but that’s only because it came after four years of below-average winters.
“February really hurt us,” said Glen Merrill, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. “We were looking great going into February. It was very warm and very dry and that really hurt the snowpack.”
Up until February, Utah’s snowpack was above normal, and then it dropped to below average, he said, with the melting snow sucked up by dry soil. And even though April seemed like a very rainy month, the state needed well above average rainfall, not just average or near average, to get back to 100 percent of normal.
He said it would take several very large snow storms to get the area back to average, and that’s not going to happen.
But even though the April showers didn’t make up for a dry February, they did help, Merrill said. The rain meant snow at higher elevations, plus the cool and wetter weather slowed down the snow melt rate — that means the snowpack will hold until mid- to late May and it won’t all come down at once. It also means less sprinkler use.
The snowpack at high elevations is still 90 to 100 percent of average, but the lower elevations aren’t looking so good, he said. “The forecasted runoff is 70 percent of average in the north and about 75 percent in central and southern Utah.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on Jan. 1 the snowpack on Cascade Mountain was 38 inches. By May 1 it was down to 8 inches. But in 2011 — which had one of the deepest snowpacks at the site since 2002 — there were 53 inches on the ground on Jan. 1, and still 57 inches by May 1.
The runoff won’t be at normal levels, but rivers will still be cold with fast flows, Merrill said.
“Even though we’re not expecting river flooding, whenever we have increasing snow melt the flow of these mountain streams and rivers increases dramatically,” he said. “People need to be really cautious near these rivers. They’re flowing very fast and cold.”