Early season storms have Utah scoring early and often for snowpack

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5 2013 4:40 p.m. MST

Liz Abbott hikes in the fresh snow with her dogs in Neff's Canyon in Salt Lake County Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The storms of October and the first few days of November have put smiles on the faces of water managers in Utah and ski enthusiasts.

With the snowpack already building in the Wasatch Mountains, Solitude Mountain Resort announced it is moving up its opening day to Friday, with three lifts and four groomed runs ready to go.

After back-to-back years of lackluster snowpack, the frequent storm activity since the start of this latest water year — Oct. 1 — is cause for cautious optimism.

"We really like where we are at," said Randy Julander, supervisor of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service's Utah Snow Survey. "It's anybody's guess where we are going to end up, but it is better to score early and score often than to score late or never."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service released its latest Utah Climate and Water Report on Tuesday, detailing precipitation activity over the past water year and what has happened since Oct. 1.

The numbers depicting this season's snowpack are staggering — with such a shortened time frame it is easy to have inflated percentages — but Julander said it's still fun to look at them.

The Weber-Ogden River Basin is 150 percent of average; Provo-Jordan River is at 186 percent; Dirty Devil hovers at 333 percent; and in southeastern Utah it's a whopping 459 percent of average.

"With early season snowpack, the numbers inflate pretty dramatically, pretty fast and they will go way down very quickly," Julander said. "But having a few storms early on makes you feel pretty good."

For October across the state, precipitation was near average at 90 percent, with statewide reservoir capacity at 65 percent, compared with 86 percent last year, according to the survey's report.

The storms this week have boosted the snowpack, and over the past 30 hours, the National Weather Service noted that Alta received 10 inches of new snow and Snowbird another 5 inches.

Julander said the storms are encouraging, but the weeks and months ahead have to continue to deliver generous and frequent helpings of snow to help the state try to emerge from two years of an extremely dry pattern.

The water year that ended Oct. 1, according to Julander's report, shows the majority of the state at below average levels for precipitation. The numbers, too, paint a false picture of what was truly a dismal year for moisture, he added.

"When you look at the precipitation for the year, it really looks like a near normal year, but that is not where the story is in terms of how it played out," Julander said. "It comes down to the distribution of when it fell and how it fell. We had a really crappy snow year. It melted early, June had almost no precipitation, and we had some really big events in September that caught us back up."

Those late summer rains infused the soil with badly needed moisture, which Julander said will help this next spring.

"In July and August the soil was about as dry as we have ever seen it," he said. "But we were able to make a really big comeback, and the more water in the soil this time of year helps with runoff next year."

As water managers prepare for winter with extremely low reservoir levels they hope are replenished with snow and a delayed runoff in the spring, Julander warns there is a lot of time between now and what will ultimately be the real story come April.

"It is a long, long way until April," he said. "A lot remains to be written between now and then."

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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