Water outlook promising despite below average snowfall

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 20 2011 4:00 p.m. MST

Water, ice and snow in Provo Canyon Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Snowstorms so far this season have made scant appearances, but the water supply outlook remains promising because of the record-setting wet spring on top of a record-breaking snowpack last winter.

A storm system that is forecast to move in Wednesday through Thursday should dump a couple of inches of snow in the mountains, and the shifting weather pattern is anticipated to chase away the inversion that's been lingering the last three weeks.

The snowfall is welcome, but not nearly the amount that water watchers would like to have socked away going into next year.

"It will clear out the bad air, which is great," said Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. "As far as the amount of snow, it will be marginal."

KSL meteorologist Kevin Eubank said that is typical of the storms that come up against such a stubborn high-pressure system.

"It takes a big storm system to break it down," he said. "It either splits or literally wimps out on us."

Northern Utah's snowpack is below average as it struggles through a dry weather pattern brought on by stagnant high pressure parked above the area.

"Yes, indeed, it has been a little dry," said Randy Julander of the Utah Snow Survey, part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Southern Utah is faring better, he added, with that region anywhere from 60 percent to 100 percent of average for snowpack.

"They've been able to catch a few storms," Julander said.

Water managers would be worrying themselves a new wrinkle if not for the abundance of liquid leftovers that have kept reservoirs and streams nearly full.

"We are doing really well in terms of storage — ground water, soil saturation, the rivers running so high through summer and fall," McInerney said, adding that water is still being released out of Bear Lake.

Julander agreed.

"We're at about 85 percent of our capacity in our reservoir storage with just the stream flow coming in right now."

McInerney said that water supply is the bank Utahns can draw from as the dry pattern is likely to persist beyond Wednesday and Thursday's wannabe storm system.

"If you look at it as to how much we have in the bank, we're doing really well," he said. "It was remarkable. ... We issued our last flood warning July 20. There were 45 flood warnings last spring. We had so much water we had to make room for it somewhere. This year, we can't buy a storm."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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