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Rains quell fire threat, but give little to Utah's water storage

Published August 21, 2014 8:30 am

Storms • July rains helped prevent wildfires but didn't do much for Utah's reservoirs.
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Wet monsoon storms that started in July and are continuing this week have staved off Utah's wildfire threat, but they have caused serious flash flooding and done little to help the state's water supply.

That's the word from state officials monitoring the impact of the seasonal storms in very different ways.

"Rain in the summer is a nice thing. It keeps people from using water stored in the reservoirs by shutting off their sprinklers when they can, but overall it has a very minimal impact on our water supply scenario," said National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerney.

Utah's precipitation was 131 percent above average in July, according to the monthly Climate and Water Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

And August is off to a roaring start, but even with the impressive rainfall totals the state was still only at 83 percent of average in water year (October to October) precipitation.

That number might seem high, but it is better to have higher totals in the late winter or early spring as a result of snowpack and not summer rain that often disappears before contributing to water storage in Utah.

"Not much is going into our reservoirs," McInerney said. "A lot of it evaporates. Plants take it to grow and it goes away. We really don't see much benefit besides it is cooler."

A pattern of brief, dry periods between waves of water-engorged clouds is expected to repeat through the remainder of the workweek as a cycle of storms continues to drift through the state toward a southeastern exit into the Four Corners region and beyond.

The rain started early Wednesday with some areas receiving an inch before dawn.

West Jordan and Sandy reported flooding in low-lying intersections. More than a dozen homes reportedly experienced basement flooding in southwest Salt Lake County, many of them in West Jordan's 7000 South and 3200 West area.

Murray reported 0.84 inches of precipitation by early Wednesday and Orem was at 0.70.

Eastern Utah's Grand County was dealing with heavy rain, too. State Route 128, from mileposts 18 to 30, was closed temporarily Wednesday due to flooding, the Utah Department of Transportation said.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for Panguitch Wednesday afternoon and reported some homes there had been affected by flooding due to heavy rain.

And more than rain fell from Wednesday's skies. Hail 1-inch in diameter fell about 4:30 p.m. at the Tooele airport, according to the weather service. Winds were also heavy with Hanksville recording a gust of 56 mph and Brigham City 43 mph.

Some preliminary rainfall totals for the 24-hour period ending 8:30 p.m. Wednesday include:

• West Jordan 0.97

• Murray 0.81

• South Jordan 0.78

• Taylorsville 0.72

• Saratoga Springs 0.72

• Pleasant Grove 0.68

Scattered thunderstorms are expected to continue through Thursday with highs reaching in the mid-80s.

Southern Utah, hit hard by storms earlier this week, was dealing with less-intense, isolated rainfall as the midweek arrived.

That was good news for Washington County, where officials kept close watch on swollen rivers and streams and several homeowners had to clear water from their basements.

High temperatures on Thursday for Utah's Dixie were expected to be around 90 degrees.

Jason Curry with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands said the rains have likely resulted in a 20 percent decrease in the number of wildfires reported this year from the summer of 2013.

"There was a reduction and it can be attributed somewhat to the rain," Curry said. "We haven't seen the large-scale catastrophic fires like in years past. We have had fewer large fires and acres-per-fire is down as well."

Utah has had roughly 650 wildfires in 2014, compared with more than 800 in 2013, according to Curry.

"We don't mind seeing the rain, but there are probably some folks out there who would not have minded seeing a little less of it," he said.

But Curry says wildfire season it not over and he encourages people to remain careful even though some fire restrictions have been lifted. "We expect to see more [wildfires]," he said. "They just don't move as fast when conditions are green and as moist as they are now."

brettp@sltrib.com

remims@sltrib.com

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