SALT LAKE CITY — Several of the state's ski resorts received a welcome infusion of new snow with this latest storm to help carry them through the busy President's Day weekend, but overall snowpack conditions remain dismal statewide.
Most basins are reporting precipitation totals well below average and snow experts say it would be foolhardy to bet the next six weeks will get the state anywhere close to average.
"We are heading down the toilet. We have gone around the bowl once, but we have not gone all the way," said Randy Julander of the Utah Snow Survey. "This storm that we just had kept us from declining further."
The weekend storm slammed Woodland Hills with nearly 2 feet of snow and delivered 7.5 inches of snow to Heber Valley. High mountain ridges at Deer Valley received 15 inches. Alta received 11 inches, Snowbird got 9.5 inches and the Canyons logged 8 inches.
Jessica Kunzler, spokeswoman for Ski Utah, said snow enthusiasts continue to hit the slopes at area resorts, and despite less than ideal conditions, President's Day weekend looks to be busy.
"For skiers who are passionate about the sport, Utah is still a really good option this season," she said, pointing out that resorts throughout the West are experiencing similar challenges.
"The snow totals have not been on par," Kunzler said, "but I think people who choose to travel during these peak holiday schedules come to Utah to enjoy not only the snow, but the dining and other experiences."
A storm pushing into the southwest and central sections of the state Monday into Tuesday was anticipated to bring up to 2 feet of additional snowfall to the mountains. By midday Tuesday, the storm is predicted to taper off, but valley rain is possible Tuesday along the Wasatch Front. Snow early Tuesday along the I-80 corridor from Salt Lake City to Wendover is possible, with the National Weather Service issuing a warning of potential hazardous travel.
The state has been caught in stair-stepper approach to precipitation accumulations — ramping up for a few weeks of wet activity followed by a dry pattern of equal duration, said Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
While Julander and McInerney said the storm activity is helpful to get the state closer to average snowpack, actually hitting that target would be a one in 10 shot.
"Never bet on those odds," Julander said. "It's not a good bet."
The problem is the unlikelihood of countering months of wimpy winter weather with a few storms in February and March.
"We are getting so late into the season, with six weeks to change the weather patterns," McInerney said. "It's too little, too late for the entire state."
Snow water equivalent averages logged by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service show averages like Weber Basin's 64 percent of normal, Provo-Utah-Jordan's Basin at 62 percent of normal and southwestern Utah at 53 percent of normal.
Those numbers are particularly paltry when put up against last year's snowpack experience — with the entire state in early January 2011 looking at 258 percent more snow at that time then the year before. The Provo basin's snowfall was even more exaggerated: 350 percent more snow on the ground in January of 2011 than the same time in 2010.
It is last year's snowfall that is keeping water managers from wringing their hands in worry over this winter's lackluster performance.
"The real concern would be next year," Julander said. "We are living off our savings in the reservoirs this year," which he said are at 86 percent of capacity on average.
For example, Bear Lake rose by 11 feet, McInerney said, and groundwater was recharged from the bottom up.
"We are doing OK water supply wise," he said, "but what we don't want is back to back years like this. Then we start talking restrictions."
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