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Utah remains in drought despite wet, cold weather

Published: Friday, April 26 2013 7:55 a.m. MDT

Except for a good-sized storm March 9-11 that dropped some precipitation in southern Utah, the state was exceptionally dry last month, according to Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — With this weekend slated to feature sunshine and temperatures in the mid-70s, outdoor revelers keen on golfing, hiking, biking or gardening will delight in the temperate conditions.

Statewide water supply watchers say it would be wiser to want the wet, drizzly conditions so common this month to stick around longer — and well into the next month.

"The cold, damp weather pattern we have had for the last three weeks is what we need to continue if possible," said Tage Flint, manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, the chief water supplier for a swath of northern Utah.

Flint and others are keenly aware that the majority of Utah is in the clutches of a severe or moderate drought. The latest report released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor said drought conditions are inching west and predicted to persist or worsen in the coming months.

"Obviously people are concerned about the availability of water," said Matt Hargreaves, spokesman with the Utah Farm Bureau. "The hope is that this spring stays cooler and wet."

Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said April has been a respite from worrying about a rapidly vanishing snowpack, with the weather staying cool enough to delay snowmelt. In the northeastern Uintas and Wasatch Mountains, storms actually delivered more snow.

"We added a lot more snow at a time when we should be melting," McInerney said.

The storms in April actually reversed a disturbing trend.

"April is the month we wish we'd had in January, February and March," said Randy Julander, supervisor of the Utah Snow Survey program run by U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. "I-70 north got some really good accumulation."

The delay in the snow coming off makes it look like some of the basins are near average or above average for snowpack, but Julander warned those looks are deceiving.

"Here is the bad part. The bottom line is we have gone from worse to bad, and we are a long ways from good," he said. "This pitched us out of the fire and into the frying pan."

While the cool April has helped somewhat, Flint said the water supply going into the fall still depends on how the coming weeks play out.

"We have improved, but we are still not projected to fill our reservoirs this year," he said.

The wet, cool weather has delayed demand for watering lawns and irrigating farm fields — and that's a good thing. Drought, however, has farmers and ranchers concerned, said Larry Lewis, spokesman with the Utah Department of Agriculture.

"The rangelands look to be dry, and ranchers will be sending their cattle up to the higher elevations for summer range," Lewis said. "They're already having to make backup plans for what they are going to do if the expected access to public lands changes."

Julander said the best thing to hope for is a rewind on April's weather next month.

"If May were to stay that nice, cool and wet, that would be ever so sweet," he said.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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