SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The National Weather Service has released its latest Drought Information Statement, and as you can imagine, we’ve seen a nice bit of improvement over the last few months, but there is still a lot more moisture needed to get Utah back where we need to be.
As of Feb. 23, only 4% of the state remained in the D3-Extreme Drought level, and 53% was in D2-Severe condition. One year ago at this time, we were at 34% D3 and 97% D2. Obviously great improvement, but one good year won’t help where we’ve been.
The report looks at several different areas, so let’s go through them: First is precipitation, and we were looking very strong after January. Then February started off really dry and only the last week has brought the month up to anything close to normal precipitation levels.
A “water year” is measured from October to September the following year. The nicely wet November last year through January of this year has most of Utah’s basins at 110-117% of average precipitation. The current storm the state is hosting will continue to help that, but it will really be up to March, April, and May (traditionally higher rain total months) to keep us above those numbers and finish out strong.
Snowpack is another area where we can feel pretty good about as we have seen some really great snowstorms rolling through the Beehive State. Lower temperatures have mixed well with the robust precipitation to really build up the snow levels in the mid and upper elevations.
All basins are well above median numbers for this time of year. The statewide snowpack average is 153%. Even better, we are at 117% over the median peak, with over a month left before typical mean peak values are met. Simply put, we are over our average for the snow season and every flake that falls from this point on is extra, so bring it on.
Hydrologic conditions are where we start to see where we are in need of more water. At present, only 30% of our area streams and rivers are flowing at normal levels, and just 7% have above-normal flows. That puts the remainder below normal levels.
There is some slightly good news with the Great Salt Lake. The south arm of the lake’s average daily surface elevation is 4,190.1, up about 1.6 feet from its record low back in November. The north arm is also up, but only a little more than half a foot since that same time. We will see surface elevation increase in the spring and early summer, but it will take a lot to get the lake back fully.
Our Utah reservoirs overall are sitting at 51% of capacity, excluding the state’s two largest reservoirs (Lake Powell and Flaming Gorge). Reservoir storage is gradually increasing at normal trends for this time of year. Lake Powell is at 22% of capacity, its lowest level since being filled in 1969.
It’s a lot of numbers and while some are looking good, it’s best to remember that it takes a year of good water numbers for every year of drought conditions. We will need a lot more water to get us where we need to be, so keep that in mind next time when you’re shoveling snow. Maybe that will make it a little less painful.