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Utah storm is 'good start' for precipitation year

Published: Monday, Oct. 25 2010 9:39 p.m. MDT

Snow shows in the mountains above Salt Lake City following storm on Monday.

Ravell Call, Deseret News, KSL-TV Chopper 5

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's water outlook received a critical booster shot this weekend with the arrival of a cold, moisture-laden storm that could leave as much as 2 feet of snow in the mountains before it heads out.

Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service, said the wet storm is a "good start," but wondered aloud if it will be a precursor of things to come.

"If this were a baseball game, we could say we had a run scored in the first inning, but we have eight innings to go."

While the past two winters didn't mark an official arrival along the Wasatch Front until the second week in December, this lingering cold blast could mean Utah's off to a good start when it comes to precipitation.

"We have really put some good precipitation down, including snow in the mountains," McInerney said. "The more of these we get, the better."

Motorists and others caught by the storm's intensity may not agree with that assessment, especially in light of high winds that knocked out power and were accompanied by driving rain.

An estimated 2,100 Rocky Mountain Power customers were impacted by the storm, which also toppled trees into cars near 900 South and 1850 West. Downed trees also uprooted a gas line near 1884 East and 6300 South, with wind gusts reported overnight Sunday at 50 mph at the Salt Lake International Airport.

A hapless beer truck driver was trapped in the cab of his vehicle for 30 minutes Monday morning after it crashed into a power pole near 2600 E. Bengal Blvd., (7600 South). The collision unleashed a live wire, forcing the man to remain inside his vehicle until crews could assure a safe escape.

McInerney said the wintry weather capped an extremely active monsoonal season for the southern portion of the state, which logged 70 flash-flood warnings from mid-July to mid-October. By comparison, there were eight such warnings during the same time period in 2009.

McInerney said the water year that ended Oct. 1, was one marked by extremes — a dry pattern in the north that was only augmented by a "hyper-efficient" runoff and wildly high precipitation totals in the southern portion of the state, which saw snowpacks at 148 percent of normal.

If a high pressure ridge doesn't park over Utah, McInerney said he is hopeful that the blustery weather will be a signal of things to come. The region, too, is transitioning from a period of an El Nino weather pattern to that of La Nina, which is characterized by a wetter and cooler Pacific Northwest and a warmer and drier desert Southwest.

While it is an easy to predict that Seattle will be cooler and wetter than normal and Tucson will be hotter and drier than is typical, McInerney said it's a lot trickier with Salt Lake City, which is right in the middle of those areas and has an "equal chance" of going either way.

"You don't want to bet the farm on a long-range forecast," he said.

Winter storm warnings remained in effect for much of the state Monday, with forecasters urging caution because of high winds and the chance for significant accumulations of snowfall in the mountains.

Some of those warnings or advisories were to remain in effect until early Wednesday morning, when the storm is anticipated to move out.

Contributing: Pat Reavy, Randall Jeppeson

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

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