UTAH (ABC4) – Living with drought is not new for most Utahns; the state regularly experiences periods of extreme water scarcity. But according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, our current dry spell – which began in spring 2020 – has been the most intense. In fact, 69.99% of the state was ranked as being in an ‘exceptional drought,’ as of January 2021.  

This year, however, is looking up. December’s plentiful snowfall resulted in the announcement that the entire state was downgraded from the exceptional drought category, and only 31.81% of Utah remains in a state of extreme drought.

But we’re not out of the woods yet. After several prolific snowfalls, we’ve experienced several weeks of warmer, dry weather that ABC4’s Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy says could be another bump in the road of our very tumultuous drought recovery.

“Statewide, our extreme drought continued to decline in the last week, and we really want that to continue,” she says. “But without storms, it’s hard to do.”

The recent warm-up has continued the past four months’ bumpy precipitation pattern, Brophy says. As we emerged from our hottest summer on record – Salt Lake City recorded a 107 degree day – many Utahns were praying for rain.

And the rains – and snows – came. According to Brophy, October 2021 was the sixth wettest October on record in Salt Lake City.

But just as quickly as it came, the rain dried up again. November was markedly dry, with many of Utah’s ski resorts forced to push back their opening days due to lack of precipitation in the mountains.

And then December changed the tides yet again.

“December showed up and it performed similar to October,” Brophy explains. “We didn’t hit any records, but we definitely saw a change in the weather pattern which allowed for more storm activity.”

And indeed, the recent storm systems made a huge impact on Utah’s snowpack, an essential component of combating the drought. According to the Utah Department of Water Resources, statewide snow water equivalent – which refers to the amount of water contained in the snowpack – rests at 9 inches. This number is 131% of the average snow water equivalent expected for this time of year.

But just as December performed similarly to October, January is looking much like November.

According to Brophy, a meteorological phenomenon known as a ridge of high pressure has set up shop across the western United States. This ridge – which compresses and warms the air – prevents the forming of clouds and acts as a blocker for storms coming through the area.

And although most skiers love a bluebird day, too many in a row could be a threat to snowpack, Brophy says.

“My biggest concern is snowpack,” she says. “We had really healthy snowpack numbers to start out January, which we desperately needed. Unfortunately, when we get dry conditions, warmer conditions, and no additional storm activity, we start to chip away at that snowpack.”

In April, state water officials will take stock of how the past winter’s snowpack affects the filling of our reservoirs. Currently, 35 of Utah’s largest reservoirs are below 55% of available capacity, compared to last year, when reservoirs were at about 62% capacity.

Though we won’t really know until April, Brophy says there could be reason for concern.

“If we don’t see any precipitation in January, that really threatens what we’ve collected,” she says. “As we get through the next several months, if we’re looking at dry conditions, that puts us in a pretty bad predicament.”

So, let’s hope this bumpy pattern doesn’t continue. But if it does, hopefully we can count on February to bring a lot more snow.