The Great Salt Lake rose only 2.4 inches during the winter of 1987-88 for the smallest increase in 111 years of record keeping, the National Weather Service reports.
William Alder, meteorologist in charge at the weather service's Salt Lake City office, said the lake peaked about Feb. 10 at 4,209.55 feet above sea level and held more or less steady for the past two months.The U.S. Geological Survey's Friday reading at the Saltair marina confirmed the peak, Alder said.
The record-low increase on the unpredictable lake came only five years after its highest one-year increase, 5.1 feet, in the soggy 1982-83 water year.
"This is kind of phenomenal, I think," said Alder.
The previous record was .3 of a foot in 1878-79, but records were a little sketchy then, Alder said. The average is 1.6 feet per year.
While the lake's $60 million pumping project had some effect, Alder said the credit really goes to the exceedingly dry winter.
"We've only had 5.76 inches (precipitation) since October, which makes it one of the driest in the 50 years of record keeping at the airport," he said.
Alder declined to call it a drought.
"That's kind of a ticklish word for some people, but it's getting close to that," Alder said. "Our water concerns are much greater now than two months ago. Let me put it this way: If we get another winter next year like this one, then it's definitely a drought."
The .18 inches measured at the airport Thursday was the first recorded rain in April, normally the wettest month of the year. "We are about 8 percent of normal for the month," he said.
The lake hit its yearly low point Dec. 20, when it was measured at 4,209.35 feet above sea level. Less than two months later on Feb. 10, it was recorded at 4,209.55 feet, a difference of .2 of a foot or 2.4 inches.
"I would guess it will drop about 2 feet between now and late October," Alder said.
"There is still a remote chance, with cooler weather and additional precipitation, that the lake may rise above this year's peak," said Lee Case, district chief for geological service's Water Resources Division in Salt Lake City, which takes the readings. But that would require a big change in the dry- weather pattern, Alder said.
The lake has never before reached a seasonal peak as early as February, Case said, and it has peaked in March only three times.
The lake usually goes up about 4 or 5 inches in February and March, Alder said, but lots of sunny days and temperatures about 5 degrees above normal have given evaporation an early advantage this year.
Once the days get warm, evaporation starts to control the level. That is why the lake usually peaks before the rivers feeding it have hit their runoff peak, Alder said.