July was Salt Lake City’s hottest on record

Welcome to the new “normal,” which was just increased by 2.4 degrees

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People cool down at Liberty Park on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.

Congratulations, Salt Lake City, you just endured the hottest month on record.

According to data gathered at the Salt Lake City International Airport, the average temperature for July was 85.7 degrees, or 4.6 degrees above “normal,” according to meteorologist Christine Kruse of the National Weather Service.

“In July, we had 11 days over 100 degrees. When you have 11 days in one month that are 100 degrees or higher, you’re bringing that average temperature up quite a bit,” Kruse said. But it was the high low temperatures that drove July into the record books.

“We had 26 days where our low temperature was 70 or above, which tied the record from 2013 for the month of July. It’s the higher [minimums], but we also saw a contribution from those very, very hot max temperatures as well.”

The average temperature is calculated from the lows and highs recorded at the airport. Statewide temperature data has yet to be processed, so it’s premature to say whether July was a record for Utah.

In another troubling sign of Utah’s warming climate, the weather service this year redefined “normal” for Salt Lake City, increasing it by 2.4 degrees. The normal benchmark is set every decade, based on averages gathered over the previous 30 years. This year, normal was recalibrated from the 1991 to 2020 period, climbing from 78.7 to 81.1 degrees, according to Kruse.

“There is not a year in the top 10 that’s not in the 2000s,” Kruse said. “So 2013 is No. 3, 2007 is No. 4, 2003 is No. 5. There’s a lot of years in the last 20 years in that list.”

Last month’s record heat came at a time when the state has seen its driest year on record.

Before last week’s monsoons swept across the state, most of Utah was in “exceptional” drought. That severity has been reduced by a category to “extreme” for much of the state, with pockets in northern Utah still stuck in “exceptional” drought, Kruse said.

Last month, 3.37 inches of rain fell at Capitol Reef National Park, making July the sixth wettest month since 1938, when record keeping began at the famous destination in south-central Utah.

“It was quite wet in some spots across southern Utah,” Kruse said, “particularly southwestern Utah.”

In Salt Lake City, 0.52 inch fell in July, which was about typical. However, on Aug. 1, a monsoon unleashed a deluge on the Wasatch Front, bringing welcome relief — and some unwelcome flooding — from months of drought and fresh water into depleted reservoirs.

Despite the combination of high temperatures and, until recently, record low precipitation, Utah’s wildfire season has so far proved fairly tame in defiance of forecasts for epic wildfire.

While other parts of the West are again struggling with megafires, Utah has yet to experience any disastrous blazes, despite an early start to the fire season.

Early June did see a wave of large fires, most notably the Pack Creek Fire near Moab, but Utah has been relatively quiet for the past month.

The majority of recent fire starts had natural causes, in contrast with last year’s epidemic of human-caused fires. The drop-off in human-caused fires could indicate that Utah’s public information campaigns are having an impact in reducing the fire risk.

About 60,000 acres have burned so far in Utah. Oregon and California have been seeing that level of burning in a single day this year.

Utah’s recent rains, meanwhile, are expected to reduce the wildfire potential.

“For most of Utah, especially the mountains, when you get the monsoon, you get rain on all of those areas [prone to burning] and that increases the soil moisture, increases the fuel moistures and makes it less likely for a large wildfire,” Kruse said. “You can feel that it’s humid again today, for Utah anyway. That slows down the drying out of those fuels even when it’s not raining.”

Still, at least another month remains in Utah’s fire season. In recent years, late August is when some of Utah’s biggest fires started, such as East Fork in 2020 and Pole Creek in 2018.