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Utah experiencing the worst drought it has seen in 20 years

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah- (ABC 4 News) – A new update on Utah’s drought numbers came out on Thanksgiving, but sadly, it’s nothing to be thankful about as numbers look grim. Staying on course with 2020, Utah is experiencing the worst drought it has seen in 20 years.

The latest drought monitor published by The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln looks bleak for the State of Utah and the entire Intermountain West. More than half of Utah, 46 percent, is now under “Exceptional” drought conditions, the worst level of drought. You might be thinking, the other half can’t be that bad, but 93 percent of the state remains under severe drought conditions and 87% under extreme drought conditions.

At ABC4, the Pinpoint Weather Team heavily monitors our drought situation, because drought has a major impact and ripple effect on our communities. “Exceptional drought” can cause widespread crop and pasture damages, as well as water shortages. Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy has covered drought in Utah for more than half of the last decade.

In the past, rural towns, like East Carbon, have restricted water use. This year, the drought impacted our fall foliage, and two years ago, drought conditions played into our black bear population in the state.

This year, the drought is worse. When comparing the last two droughts in Utah which date back to 2002, our ongoing drought for 2020 stands as the worst drought in at least 20 years. Data is sparse for any droughts prior to 1999, as The National Drought Mitigation Center was only established in 1999, to monitor countrywide and local droughts.

In a normal precipitation year, Salt Lake City receives 16.1″. In 2020, Salt Lake City has received 8.61″ or about half of the annual precipitation since January 1. In the drought years of 2002 and 2018, the cumulative precipitation amounts were 10.29″ and 13.21″ respectively. The worst year on record for annual precipitation was 8.7″ in 1970. Record-keeping began in 1874.

New water years start on October 1st, and we have been extremely dry to begin this 2020-2021 year. Last year was not terrific either, as we wrapped the year significantly below average in Salt Lake City. 

Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy broke down those numbers just two months ago, and we were in need of some wet weather. Snowpack plays a critical role in our desert climate, and the snowpack we receive allows us to get through our dry months.

With a non-existent monsoon season this summer, we are leaning on our reservoir savings and not replenishing with a lackluster storm track. The state and the region will need a wet winter, similar to the 2018-2019 winter, to help bust out of this exceptional and historic drought the state finds itself in. It’s time to think snow, because any precipitation now will help us. 

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