Utah is said to have the greatest snow on earth, and this winter, in particular, has been exceptional for the state’s snowpack.
The record-breaking conditions have guaranteed Utah will have an above-normal snowpack for the remainder of the season. And although one good snow year won’t pull the state out of the drought, the Director of the Utah Division of Water Resources Candice Hasenyager said in a statement, there’s reason to be optimistic.
“This is our opportunity year!” she said. “In order to take full advantage of our plentiful snowpack, we must continue to use our water wisely … And by using less water, we will become more drought resilient.”
Wet weather throughout January helped make this winter one of the best in 20 years, with precipitation levels well above normal at 196%, according to a drought report. Snowpack conditions across the state remain above peak, which usually occurs in April.
The snow water equivalent, or how much water is in the snowpack, is around 16 inches. According to state water officials, that’s more than the state received in total last winter. Every basin is reporting a snowpack above 115% of normal.
The Utah Snow Survey predicted last month that the snow water equivalent could reach 22 inches – or 155% of normal – by the April peak.
It’s been 26 years since Utah saw this much snow at the beginning of February, according to the drought update. Officials hope for more winter storms, including those forecasted over the last few weeks, to help collect more snow for the state’s bodies of water.
Reservoir storage across the state is around 51% on average. Nearly half of Utah’s reservoirs are below 55% of available capacity. The storage levels are comparable to around this time last winter.
As of Feb. 21, the Jordanelle Reservoir was around 59% capacity. The Rockport Reservoir, where Park City gets a large supply of its water, was around 65%. The Smith and Morehouse Reservoir, near Oakley, was at 54%, while the Echo Reservoir was at 67% capacity.
Many reservoirs are expected to fill when spring begins, but factors such as cool temperatures are needed to help promote an effective melt in the meantime.
Soil moisture also matters as higher levels help drive the runoff to reservoirs rather than underground. According to the drought update, soil moisture is around 55%, which is about 7% higher than normal for this time of year.
Temperatures, however, are slightly elevated. The drought update indicates a nearly 3-degree increase than average over the last two weeks, which has caused rain in lower elevations rather than snow. There hasn’t been the same effect in higher elevations.
The overall above-average precipitation has helped prevent any of the 71 measured streams from having record-low flows.
Similarly, it’s helped boost the Great Salt Lake by a foot and a half since a historic low set last fall. Last year, the lake barely rose 12 inches. Water officials said the increase this winter is the direct result of precipitation and inflows into the Great Salt Lake.
“We are off to a good start as we look toward spring runoff,” the drought update said.
Around 4% of the state is in an extreme drought, the second-worst category, based on the latest conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Around 34% of Utah was classified in the category last February.