Snowmagedden skirted Utah's mountains
Complaints about January's heavy snow piled up all over northern Utah's population centers last month. So it might be hard to believe that the mountain snowpack was not heavy enough.
That's what new reports from the National Weather Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) say. Snow fell short where it is needed most, in the natural mountain iceboxes that become water spigots for the valleys through the spring and summer melt.
The agencies agree that January left lower-than-normal snowpack. And, if the trend continues, it means reservoirs in the Weber and Bear river basins and possibly the Provo River drainage won't be bouncing back yet from a very dry 2012 water season.
"These have been really goofy storms this year," said Tage Flint, general manager of Weber Basin Water Conservancy District. "Anything less than [normal] equates to reservoirs that are less than full."
Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor at the NCRS in Salt Lake City, noted most of the state is in pretty good shape with snowpack. Much of the state is 90 percent of normal or above, with southwestern Utah at a flush 112 percent.
But the Weber and Bear river basins are at 83 and 85 percent, respectively. And, even though they looked good after December's storms, mountain snowpack actually declined 20 percent from the beginning of last month. Snowfall was half to three-quarters of what would normally be expected in January, Julander said.
"We're still okay," he said. "But we are heading in the wrong direction."
"We would like to see snow in the mountains as well as in the valleys."
Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the weather service's Salt Lake City office, estimates April through July runoff volumes will be around 70 of normal.
It's an anomaly, he added, that the valleys and benches received so much snow while the mountains starved for it. He pointed out that the airport saw nearly double the normal snowfall for January.
"The valley areas are normal," he said, "but the mountains are way below normal."
In addition, long-term forecasts for spring suggest a warmer-than-normal trend.
Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for PacifiCorp, said so far it looks as though irrigators who rely on lake water, which PacifiCorp manages, can expect their full allotment. He said: "We're in conditions similar to last year" at this time.