SALT LAKE CITY — February's winter storms brought high snowpack numbers and precipitation, which Utah hydrologists say could bode well for spring runoff.
"And that's what we need this year, because we're coming off the heels of the driest year on record in 2018," said Brian McInerney, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
As of Saturday, Bear River had 112 percent of normal snow water equivalency, Weber River showed 120 percent of normal, and southeastern Utah was at 142 percent of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service's Utah Snow Report.
"I think if you were to paint a picture for February, on a wish list, we got what was on the wish list," McInerney said. "We got cold temperatures, very active storm pattern, and 200 to 300 percent precipitation in the form of snow down to low elevation."
Low-elevation snowpack is high so far — a promising sign, according to Troy Brosten, hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"We had pretty good coverage all the way across the state," he said. "We really need it. Last year was an abysmal year. It was half the snowpack, we had heavy use on reservoirs, and everybody was gritting their teeth hoping for a good snow year, and it's turned out to be a good snow year. So that's certainly going to help reservoirs recover and help us through summer, no doubt."
The 2019 snowpack still isn't back up to 2017 numbers, but it has surpassed the low 2018 numbers. Brosten noted that southern Utah is doing just as good as the north, something 2017 didn't see.
But he said it's still early, and if March brings less-than-average precipitation numbers, southern Utah snowpack numbers could taper off — just like they did in 2017.
"If March turns out to be a real dud and we don't get a normal precipitation, then a lot of our snowpack numbers will drop below normal," Brosten added. "Then the runoff will become less efficient and there will be less of a snowpack to fill the reservoirs."
If the numbers stay high throughout March, the reservoirs have a good chance of recovering from last year's dry spell.
"It will make up for a lot of water we used last year," Brosten said.
The weather pattern this year has helped snowpack, according to McInerney.
"We don't see high pressure dominating the weather pattern," he explained. "Anytime you have high pressure parked over the West, you get an absence of storms, you get inversions, you get poor air quality, you have snowpacks that are really quite low. And we haven't had that this year. We've had an active weather pattern. February we had around 200 to 300 percent precipitation across the state, that was phenomenal, we had one storm after another moving in."
Things are much more optimistic compared to last year, but the weather pattern needs to hold, McInerney said.
"We need to keep it cold and wet all the way through May. If we start melting early, this could change," he warned. "We could lose a significant amount of our snow water equivalency to evaporation. … It could go south pretty quick, but so far we don't see a rapid warming."
Brosten said things are hopeful.
"We still certainly aren't out of the woods yet, but every day that a storm comes in, it brings us closer to a more promising runoff period," he said.