SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — The Beehive State has had an incredible start to the winter season, and the snow seems like it just keeps piling up. With so much snowfall recently, it has many people wondering how the snowy start is helping our drought.
When we look at some of the numbers for December snowfall, Alta Ski Resort is reporting the snowiest December in the past decade. They received just over 13.5 feet of snow last month and have 308 inches for the season overall, which is 25.6 feet of snow! Their current base is sitting at 9.5 feet.
Not only has the snow helped skiers and snowboarders, but the incredible amount of moisture has also boosted our snowpack numbers as well. Our latest snowpack numbers indicate that all the water basins in Utah are well above average for this time of year.
“Typically, it takes about 10 inches of snow to make an inch of water out of the snow, and this last storm was so wet because of that atmospheric river that it [took] only about 5 inches of snow to one inch of water, which is great. That’s why our snow levels spiked so quickly,” said Laura Haskell, Division of Water Resources Drought Coordinator.
The snowpack numbers can be taken from the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) map. The percentage refers to the amount of precipitation held in the snowpack that would runoff once it is melted down. Statewide, we are sitting at 171 percent of normal SWE with 137 percent of normal precipitation. This is an exceptional way to begin our winter season and is making an impact on the current drought conditions.
“Last year we did have our snowpack peak at about 12 inches, and we’re at 10 inches right now, says Haskell, and so we’re just hoping that we can keep it up, and keep increasing that to make more than, our peak is usually over 15.5 inches, we’d like to at least hit that this year.”
Utah’s most recent drought began in late 2019 with half of the state declared in severe drought. Utah saw a rapid jump to 93 percent of the state in severe drought by September 2020, with 84 percent of the state in extreme drought. With all the wet weather recently, the last drought update shows that extreme drought is down to just 31 percent of the state.
“We’ve been able to reduce the amount of the state that’s in ‘Exceptional’ and ‘Extreme’ drought by about 25%,” Haskell said.
With 90 days to go until peak snowpack typically occurs, experts are cautiously optimistic.
“We are a little cautious because last year we had about 9 inches quite early and then it’s like it turned off the faucet,” Haskell said.
In terms of drought, Haskell said it usually takes about as many years to get out of drought as it took to get into it, and so even if our banner snow year continues, we may not get out of it entirely this year.