The weather year went from unremarkable to unforgettable, as 1990 began with a benign January and ended with clear skies, a blue moon and the third coldest December on record.
"It's been dry, unfortunately," said Bill Alder, National Weather Service meteorologist. "Summer was hot. And December has been something else. It has been the coldest month in 35 years."The water year ended Sept. 30, with the state average precipitation just 80 percent of normal. The snowpack melted early, and stream flows statewide "were a sad 25 percent to 50 percent of normal," Alder said.
Lake Powell was at its lowest level since it filled in 1980. The Great Salt Lake was at its lowest level in more than eight years, and Utah Lake fell to its lowest level since the fall of 1964. Bear Lake fell to levels approaching those reached during the 5-year drought of the Great Depression.
December 1990 rang out with an average temperature of 21 degrees, 9.3 degrees below the normal. Not since 1935 has the average temperature been that far off normal.
Though the New Year's Eve daytime high hit 23 degrees at the Salt Lake International Airport, Dec. 31 was still a record day in Utah, with several weather stations posting all-time low temperatures for the date.
With a reading of 7 below zero, Salt Lake City broke a 1930 record, while Alta's reading of 8 below zero dashed a 1975 mark. Cedar City's minus 9 and Delta's minus 15 broke records set in 1987.
But those marks were warmer than those posted Dec. 30, when 29 Utah stations reported record low daytime temperatures and 26 reported record lows. A high pressure system on Monday afternoon replaced the arctic mass hovering over the state, which also signaled the return of temperature inversion fogs.
New Year's Eve revelers celebrated under a full moon, the second for the month. This once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence last happened in May 1988, and won't happen again until August 1993. The last New Year's Eve blue moon was 19 years ago, in 1971; the next one will be in 2009.
The year's highlights
January: A warm month of many storms but very little moisture. Temperatures averaged 4.8 degrees above normal, and just .57 inches of precipitation fell in the valley. Remarkably, in this normally murky month, the Wasatch Front experienced but one day of heavy inversion fog. Alta reported a 107.5-inch snowpack, and a heat wave on Jan. 9 in Cedar City sent the mercury to 70 degrees.
February: The fourth driest February on record for the Salt Lake Valley, but one of the few months of 1990 when the temperatures averaged below normal. Again, it was a murky month that passed pleasantly - just two days of relatively light inversion fog.
March: Snow and even some rain made this one of the few months with above-normal amounts of precipitation in the valley. However, the far northern and far southern areas of the state posted below-normal precipitation. Even more unusual was the tornado that touched down in Naples (three miles southeast of Vernal), damaging a mobile home and a storage shed. With an average temperature of 45 degrees, it was the sixth warmest March on record.
April: The wettest month of the year was only about half as wet as it should be in the Valley with 1.14 inches of precipitation - 52 percent of normal. But weather is nothing if not quirky - one of the driest spots in the state was relatively the wettest. Wendover received 1.64 inches of moisture, or 381 percent of the April normal. April was also warmer than usual, with the average low temperature of 43.1 degrees tying with April 1930 for the record high minimum temperatures.
May: As wet as usual in the valley, but cooler than normal, May was also windy - wind speeds exceeded 35 mph at the airport on eight days. Statewide, the rainfall ranged from little to too much. Flooding was reported in Ogden on the 28th as a Memorial Day weekend storm blew through.
June: Don't like the Valley weather? Wait a minute. Snow fell on the 1st, and the temperature hit 103 degrees on the 30th for a record high temperature tied on Aug. 8. The first half of June was a little wet, the last half bone dry. Temperatures topped 100 degrees six times. Fillmore received 434 percent of its normal rainfall, and lightning struck a woman when she ducked for cover under a tree in the Payson area.
July: Hot in the first part of the month, then cooler in the latter half, temperatures in the Valley topped 100 degrees just four times. Precipitation was almost - but not quite - normal. The monsoon was a bust in the south except in Milford and Manti, which got 216 percent of their normal rainfall. A tornado was spotted on the golf course in Roosevelt on the 8th, and many areas reported hail on Pioneer Day.
August: A somewhat nondescript August - half the normal precipitation, just two days of 100-degree heat - turned tragic when winds fanned a campfire into a killer blaze in Midway on the 28th. Two volunteer firefighters died, 3,000 acres burned and 18 homes were destroyed in the fire, one of Utah's worst.
September: Five days with temperatures 95 degrees or above made September the warmest on record. On the 12th, 24 weather stations reported record high temperatures. Precipitation was 53 percent of normal in the Valley, but snow fell on the higher peaks in the Wasatch by the 18th and 19th. Golf ball-sized hail was reported in Park City on the 25th, and minor flooding hit Provo by that evening.
October: Dry and mild in the Valley, but when a powerful storm moved across the state, 2.19 inches rained on Alta. Vernal was wet, too, with 234 percent of its normal precipitation.
November: Temperatures were warm and precipitation was just above normal in the Valley. Two days before Thanksgiving the snow started in earnest, allowing the ski resorts to open more or less on time.
December: The Arctic Express rumbled through twice, making the month the third coldest December on record. (The coldest December came in 1932, with an average temperature of 18 degrees, followed by 1930's 18.8 degrees.) Temperatures average 9.3 degrees below normal, with daytime highs so low that 14 records were broken. At least 10 people died in weather-related incidents beginning Dec. 18, when seven were killed after a semitrailer truck crashed into a Greyhound bus near Evanston. A transient froze to death in Salt Lake City on Dec. 23, and two women died when their truck was struck by an out-of-control car on a slick Salt Lake road and plunged from an overpass.