Utah is having its best winter in nearly 20 years

Great Salt Lake is up by a foot, and the state is certain to have a good runoff season in the spring.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fresh snow blankets the Salt Lake Valley as the sun sets on Mount Olympus on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023.

Utah is having an astounding winter. In certain watersheds, it’s breaking records.

Statewide, the water equivalent of snowpack is at 195% of normal. That means snowfall is nearly double what Utah would see in average season this time of year. It also means that even if the storms suddenly stop, the state will still see an above-normal winter, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Utah Snow Survey reports.

As of Wednesday, the only years that saw more snow to date were 1984, 1997 and 2005.

“That makes this the best winter (so far) that we’ve seen in almost 20 years!” Snow Survey staff wrote in an update report.

Image courtesy of the Utah Snow Survey.

Snowpack typically peaks in early April, so there are around 76 days for more snow to fall. It could potentially make 2023 Utah’s biggest winter since the SNOTEL network began beaming snowpack data from 137 automated stations across the state.

Four of Utah’s major basins have already set records for the amount of snow measured to date. They include the Provo-Utah Lake-Jordan basin, the Tooele Valley-Vernon Creek basin, the Lower Sevier basin and the Beaver basin.

Snowstorms have already given the Great Salt Lake a much-needed assist. The Department of Natural Resources reports the lake has risen by a foot since its elevation bottomed out in November.

The dramatic change might be due to state efforts to raise a railroad causeway berm bisecting the lake so it acts like a dam, preventing saltier water in the north arm from further spiking salinity levels in the more productive south arm. The north arm does not have any rivers flowing to it.

Even with a hearty snowpack and the above-average runoff that will follow, it will take years of good winters for the Great Salt Lake to reach a sustainable elevation. It currently sits about one foot lower than at this time last year.

Lake Powell, too, will need more winters of above-normal conditions across the Upper Colorado River Basin before it’s in the clear. It currently sits 10 feet lower than this time last year.

Come spring, the Utah Snow Survey forecasts a maximum average of 22 inches of water will melt out of the state’s snow, which is 154% of normal.

“It’s also possible that this could be our new record winter for [snow water equivalent] in Utah,” the report notes. “Time will tell!”