Utahns, smothered in snow, may find it difficult to believe that the drought may not be over.
Officials say at this point there is no guarantee there will be plenty of culinary water when the snow melts in the spring."Don't count your chickens before they are hatched," is the advice of Robert B. Hilbert, manager, Salt Lake County Conservancy District. "In view of the below-normal snowfall of the last two years, the activity we've had has been very encouraging. At least we know it still knows how to snow in Salt Lake County."
But Hilbert reminds Utahns that weather can be very fickle.
"It's encouraging to see the storm tracks coming into Utah, but we take inventory on April 1. That's what counts."
William J. Alder, meteorologist in charge of the Salt Lake office of the National Weather Service, concurs that the recent storms are a step in the right direction.
"But we have many steps left to go," he said. "We don't make up in a month or a month and a half what we lost in the past two winters."
Utah's 1988-89 water year, Alder explained, started in October - which was the fourth driest October on record.
"November, however, was tremendous; it was one of the wettest on record for some areas along the Wasatch Front and mountains."
Then came dark, dry December. At the beginning of the month, there was very little precipitation.
Four significant storms since Dec. 19, however, brought 6-9 feet of new snow to Utah's mountains and a boost to the depleted water resources in the state. Alder said snowfall during the past week will recharge some of the reservoirs and some of the aquifers that were greatly depleted.
The latest storm on Christmas, which dropped 6-12 inches in the valley and 12-24 inches on the benches and mountains, also made weather and water officials conservatively optimistic.
"In the Wasatch and western Uintas we are running 90 to 120 percent of normal (precipitation), so we are not in too bad of shape, but we have to keep getting storms," Alder said. "December is a big month in the mountains, and so is January, February and March. It's going to be very difficult to make up the losses we've had for two meager winters."
Jon Werner, data collection supervisor for the Soil Conservation Services, agreed that the improvement in snow depths is "an encouraging trend."
"But we are only 15 percent into the snow accumulation period," he said. "Most water managers are telling me they're going to need 110 to 125 percent of normal (precipitation) to have an average runoff."
Most northern Utah reservoirs were much lower than average when the 1988 water year ended Sept. 30. Water managers like to end the summer irrigation season with reservoirs 70 percent full, Werner said. But as of Oct. 31, Weber Basin reservoirs were an average of 40 percent full, with Pineview at only 23 percent of its capacity. Deer Creek was 45 percent full. Larger reservoirs in the state fared better - Strawberry was at 50 percent; Flaming Gorge, 81 percent; and Lake Powell, 90 percent.
The good news - waterwise - is that another storm is expected to bring in the new year.
"But if we don't have another storm after that for another month, it would put us behind again," Alder said. "We have to have active months to keep the precipitation level at normal."