It has been a banner year for precipitation here in Eagle Mountain, as well as the entire state of Utah.
After years of low snow totals, the weather pattern has shifted, according to Utah State University researcher and assistant state climatologist Dr. Jon Meyer.
Many residents are asking why Utah has experienced so many storms? Where are they coming from? How does this affect our water conservation efforts? Does this mean the end of Utah’s drought?
The origination of the storms
The jet stream, which is a current of air flowing from west to east that directs storms across the U.S. has returned. After several years of the jet stream directing storms to the north of Utah, the jet stream has shifted. When the jet stream flows over the state, the storms return.
“We’ve been in the middle of the highway of storm tracks, and it’s been consecutive active periods with very little break in between,” says Meyer on the Utah State University website.
Utah has been on track for what is known as the Pineapple Express. It’s a type of winter storm that typically begins as a Pacific low-pressure system spinning near the islands of Alaska. As the storm moves toward the West coast, it gathers tropical moisture from the central Pacific.
The moisture is concentrated into narrow bands which scientists refer to as atmospheric rivers – narrow corridors of atmospheric humidity that is much higher than in typical storms.
“Recently, many of our extreme precipitation events have been related to atmospheric rivers,” Meyer said. “We’ve had a couple of those this year, and that certainly has contributed to the big jumps in Utah’s snowpack.”
Snowpack above average
During the first six to eight weeks of the winter season, Meyer estimates that Utah is already at 80% of the snowpack usually seen by April 1. More snow is still expected.
Very few high-pressure systems have been reported this season, which have plagued Utah for many years, and which keep the storms at bay.
“Our snowpack is way above average right now and we are almost at what we would consider to be a normal year, with still almost 3 months left of snow accumulation to go,” Meyer said.
As of Jan. 16, 2023, Utah’s snowpack in many areas is more than 175% above normal.
According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Bear River is 169% above normal, while Ogden-Weber is 197% above normal and Provo-Utah Lake is 210% above normal.
Even southern Utah is seeing an astonishing 228% snowpack in the Southwest and 231% in Southeastern Utah. There have been periods in the past 50 years where the snowpack was comparable. During the last 20 years only a few have been this prolific.
Impacts on Eagle Mountain
The drought is not over, but there is cautious optimism that this storm season could start turning the tide.
Whether this trend is sustained will be determined by future winter storms and how the water table is affected by the additional inflow as well as the outflow of water usage during the summer months.
Summer and fall temperatures also impact this status. If they prove to be hot and dry, a lot of what has been captured will be lost in the spring, according to Meyer.
“To get out of a drought like the one we’ve been in, you need consecutive positive seasons and consecutive positive years,” says Meyer. “If next winter is not as great as this year has been so far, again we’ll go right back into drought conditions.”
Expectations for water conservation in 2023
Although a positive water year is good, and signs point to Utah having an improved water outlook, reservoirs are still low.
Scientists also have no idea when the next drought will hit. Experts agree that a long-term approach is needed because demand for water will only increase with state population growth.
Meyer believes that Utah will soon see a model shift in its relationship to water. The sooner residents start doing all they can to conserve, the more ready they will be when conservation isn’t just a suggestion, but a requirement.
“The earlier, culturally, that we can get used to the idea of more significant conservation efforts on the personal level and the individual level, the easier will be that transition to a new paradigm with our relationship to water,” says Meyer.