Utah summer: It was hot, but still didn't beat 1961
No one needs to tell Salt Lake City golfer Lynn Hales that this has been one of the warmest summers in recent memory.
Hales, who was hitting golf balls Thursday at Golf in the Round, had a one word response about how he dealt with the heat: "perspiring."
But he said he also developed coping skills. "We ignored the heat and pressed on. We played golf early in the morning and late in the afternoon and suffered through high water bills."
Salt Lake City set maximum temperature records six times this summer, according to Brian McInerney, hydrologist for the National Weather Service. And there were many more days when temperatures were over 90, 95 and 100 degrees than in an average year.
Overall, temperatures in Salt Lake this summer were three to five degrees above normal.
"If you look at the big picture with watershed, we finished a really hot, dry spring and summer," said McInerney.
In a new report that linked the heat to climate change, the National Wildlife Federation reported that the past 12 months were the warmest on record in the U.S., with more than 113 million people in areas under extreme heat advisories as of June 29. July was the warmest month ever recorded.
Since July, McInerney said, monsoon storms have taken the edge off the heat in southern Utah, though thunderstorms and flash floods have not helped the drought situation much. And there have been some major flash floods.
"We had 58 flash flood warnings this year," he said. "They were mostly right around the middle of July through the end of August. We had at least 15 debris flows causing havoc, mostly in central Utah. The fires started right around July 4th and the monsoon moved in. That combination can be deadly as far as debris flows."
Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the National Resource Conservation Service, said the wet 2011 winter and spring meant there were no water shortages this summer. But that could change.
"The bottom line water-wise is that we've been using a lot," he said. "Hot and dry is not a good combination for reservoir storage. We are just now compiling all the figures, but we will probably go into the beginning of the next water year on Oct. 1 at 55 percent of reservoir capacity. That's not the best, and not nearly what we'd hoped for. But it still's adequate, especially if we get average or above average snowpack."
Julander said the real worry is back-to-back dry years. If the dry weather continues this year, he said Utah could be in a real world of hurt and residents should expect shortages and restrictions in many places.
"The wetter the better," he said. "We can deal with lots of water. But the slow attrition by drought psychologically wears on you."
So what can water watchers, skiers and Utahns expect in the way of this weather this winter?
While long-term forecasts are difficult, McInerney said it's unlikely there will be two record-breaking dry winters in a row.
"Our feeling is that we should be able to do better than last year, which is not hard," he said.
The El NiÃ±o pattern shaping up in the equatorial Pacific Ocean is giving McInerney some optimism for a wet winter. Typically, during an El NiÃ±o year the weather pattern in the desert southwest changes from warm and dry to cool and wet, while the Pacific Northwest becomes warmer and drier. That means southern Utah should be cooler and wetter this winter, while northern Utah remains a toss-up.
2012: Utah's summer by the numbers
Records • Maximum temperature records in Salt Lake City were broken on six days: June 2, 4 and 23; July 11; and Aug. 8 and 28.
Averages • Salt Lake City hit 90 or above on 72 days this summer, short of the 1961 record of 82 days, but above the average of 56 days. A high of 95 degrees or above was recorded 46 times, double the average of 23 days. (Again the record was set in 1961, with 51 days above 95.) And temps sizzled above 100 degrees on 11 days in 2012, compared to an average of five says. The record of 21 days above 100 was set in you guessed it 1961.
Precipitation • From October, when the water year began, through the end of July, precipitation in northern Utah has ranged from 50 to 69 percent of normal. Southern Utah was 70 to 89 percent of normal. In Salt Lake City, precipitation has been above normal during just two months October and July.
Source • National Weather Service