The nation's chief long-range weather forecasters say Utah should have a warmer winter than normal. But when it comes to whether the state's four-year drought may soon end, they say residents may as well flip a coin to guess.
"We're predicting equal chances (for more or less precipitation) in Utah. It could go either way. We just don't know," said Robert Livesey, principal scientist of the National Weather Service Predictions Branch."But we are predicting warmer than normal temperatures," he said. Officially, the weather service gives Utah a 60 percent chance of having winter temperatures warmer than the median of the past 30 years.
That word came as the National Weather Service unveiled in a press conference its annual winter forecast for December through February.
That forecast had better news for other drought areas in the nation, such as Oregon and the Southeastern and Gulf states. They are all predicted to have wetter-than-normal winters coming.
But it had bad news for the state of Washington, which has been suffering severe flooding - and should have even more wet weather coming. Also, the heavily populated Eastern states are supposed to have colder-than-normal temperatures, which creates energy and heating fuel concerns.
For drought-stricken states in the West, such as Utah, California, Nevada and Idaho, the weather service just isn't sure what will happen with precipitation.
But it is fairly confident that precipitation won't merely be average, that it will be either wetter or drier. Which it will be depends on whether a ridge of high pressure forms off the California coast.
That's because, Livesey said, waters in the central Pacific are expected to be warmer than usual, which should create more storms and precipitation. But forecasters are unsure whether such a high-pressure ridge will form.
"It often does and forces the jet stream and most precipitation further to the north. That leaves fairly mild Pacific weather to come in over California (and on to Utah)," Livesey said.
And pushing the jet stream north takes wet weather over drought-stricken Oregon and flooded Washington. It then adds arctic force to weather that would be expected to eventually dip farther south than normal toward the drought-stricken South-east.
But Livesey said sometimes that expected high-pressure ridge erodes and allows the rain and snow to come directly across California and Utah. "So we are predicting equal chances."
The exception is in part of southern Utah - parts of Washington, Kane, Garfield and San Juan counties. They are given a 60 percent chance of having less precipitation than normal.
Utah's Dixie received only 61 percent of normal moisture in the water year that ended Sept. 30, and southeastern Utah received only 61 percent. Those areas have been in a three-year drought.
Northern Utah has been in a four-year drought, and officials are worried that dry soil will soak up moisture before it reaches reservoirs. The state as a whole received 80 percent of normal moisture this past water year.
If it makes Utahns feel any better, Livesey said drought conditions are much more severe in California, Nevada and Idaho.
Also, Livesey said that while the weather service's forecasts for the East and parts of the West Coast have been quite accurate recently, they have not been nearly as accurate in the Rocky Mountains and high plains.