Top 10 Salt Lake Tribune data graphics of 2022 offer insights on Utah issues

From food insecurity, water worries, COVID and growth to police shootings, a new airport and LDS membership — these stats tell a story.

What makes a good data graphic?

As a data columnist, I’m tasked with communicating facts, figures and statistics clearly and effectively. And a good data graphic goes a long way in helping to do that. It tells the main point at a glance and reveals more upon inspection. A good data graphic is striking — but sound.

In that spirit, I figured it would be fun to look at The Salt Lake Tribune’s 10 most interesting data graphics from 2022.

Our process on these varies but nearly always involves Tribune digital graphics manager Christopher Cherrington. The online data visualization studio Flourish is our most frequent online tool, while Christopher usually makes our more creative graphics in Adobe Illustrator. We frequently use different graphics for online versus print in an effort to play to each medium’s strengths.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christopher Cherrington, digital graphics manager for the Salt Lake Tribune.

So let’s get to it. In no particular order, here’s our top 10:

Food insecurity in Utah, by the numbers

Our neighbors are hungry.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The statistics about food insecurity in Utah are shocking, especially given that we live in the nation’s highest-rated economy, as named by U.S. News & World Report. But more than 1 in 10 Utahns are food insecure, and 1 in 7 Utah children (children!) don’t know where their next meal is coming from. With food prices going up, and much being wasted, it’s time to make changes. Our reporter, Stefene Russell, wrote about some things Utahns can do, though further government support is needed as well.

Lake Powell is like a wine glass

Christopher turned this analogy from U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist Casey Root into a great graphic showing how Lake Powell’s water is stored — and how comparatively small reductions in capacity will mean big reductions in water elevation moving forward.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

It turns out the capacity of Lake Powell would have to slip by only 3.3 percentage points to fall below the minimum power level. At that point, The Tribune’s Zak Podmore wrote, “the reservoir would have ceased to fulfill nearly all of its intended functions — water storage, hydropower generation and even, to a large extent, recreation.”

“What has been a slow-motion train wreck for 20 years is accelerating,” John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said. “And the moment of reckoning is near.”

SLC airport walking times

There’s perhaps no more controversial topic among Utahns recently than the new Salt Lake City International Airport. Some find walking times to get from terminal to gate unacceptable. The opposing stance is essentially that “those travelers are whiners.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

This graphic, with data from the airport, shows the walking times to various gates — along with how much the moving walkways impact the “commute.” The moving walkways don’t speed things up much. Even walking on those moving walkways saves only about a minute, thanks to their 1.1 mph walking speed.

Alfalfa and hay cover most of Utah’s cropland

Obviously, most Utahns knew that water-hungry alfalfa was grown in our state. But that it dominates the cropland to this extent was surprising — to me, at least.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The article by The Tribune’s Brian Maffly and Mark Eddington showed how important alfalfa is to Utah’s rural way of life — acting as food for livestock, a soil-health repair tool, and turning otherwise less useful land into an economic boon. On the other hand, it uses more than half Utah’s water, and water is at a premium. This dynamic could define the next century.

How many Utahns were born in Utah?

Utah is drawing an influx of migrants as the pandemic changed economic incentives for places to settle. Incoming Californians have been a favorite scapegoat. But, overall, Utah has more Utahns who were born here than neighboring states do.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

As I wrote then, “Fifty years ago, the percentage of Utahns who were born in Utah was 67.9%. Losing 5 percentage points off that number in 50 years simply hasn’t changed the state that much — not everything can, nor should be, blamed on those who claim somewhere else as their hometown.”

COVID stats

In this year’s COVID-19 omicron outbreak, the numbers were clear: The unvaccinated suffered a larger toll in terms of cases, hospitalizations and deaths than the vaccinated.

Our article had the numbers through mid-January, the above graphic has been updated to show the stats through this week. As you can see, even now, the unvaccinated are dying and being hospitalized at higher rates than the vaccinated. Those who have been boosted are also slightly better off than those who haven’t been.

More shootings by police, more people shooting at police

The Tribune keeps track of police shootings, because the state doesn’t.

What we found in 2021 was distressing: Both a record high in the number of police shootings and civilian shootings at police.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

We’re still compiling these numbers. We will have 2022 data shortly after the year turns.

Latter-day Saint membership

We’ve done a number of articles on the changing population of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from a number of different metrics: what people report about their own affiliation in surveys, the church’s per-state membership data, and what the church reported county by county to the U.S. Religion Census.

A big takeaway: The percentage of Latter-day Saints is shrinking. According to the church’s data, 34 U.S. states saw a drop in the percentage of members between the end of 2019 and the start of 2022. In 26 of Utah’s 29 counties, the percentage of Latter-day Saints declined between 2010 and 2020.

LDS Church ownership downtown

Speaking of Utah’s predominant faith, our Tony Semerad published an interesting article about how Salt Lake City’s downtown might evolve — and how the church’s ownership of 150 acres worth about $2.3 billion might impact that future.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

That translates to about 12 city blocks’ worth of ownership in the heart of Utah’s capital — including two 25-story skyscrapers and two full-block, undeveloped parking lots. Tony also details some of the history of collaboration (and competition) between church and Salt Lake City developmental goals.

Decades of change, by satellite

We all can see at street level how much Utah has changed in the past few decades. But I loved these sliding graphics from Christopher that showed how a growing population, climate change and further industry have changed the state since 1984.

This look of Salt Lake County shows it all: a receding Great Salt Lake, a changing Bingham copper mine, a new airport, Bangerter Highway, growth on the west side and much more.

Andy Larsen is a data columnist for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can reach him at alarsen@sltrib.com.