Northern Reservoirs Are Full But Southern Utah Faces Drought

Apr 16, 2020

Credit National Weather Service

Local reservoirs are close to full and the spring run-off hasn’t begun. Snow falling in the mountains this time of year, according to experts, means the water projections look good for this summer.

Senior State Hydrologist Brian McInerny is wrapping up his 30-year career with the National Weather Service. He retires the end of this month. His plans are to ski and bike more and continue working with an academic climate change non-profit.  Earlier in his career, the subject of climate change was off limits.

“Quite a stretch where I would work it in, just on water supply briefings. I wouldn't really use the words climate change but indicate that things are warming and then talk about what was happening with our weather conditions and what's projected. But yeah you couldn't even say the word climate change or even talk about this subject matter which was kind of bad.”

McInerny says through his career, technology has changed their forecasting and they can serve specific audiences better.

“We’ve gotten much better at saying who is the target audience for this forecast and what does it mean for you, the fire community, wildland fire or flash flooding down in southern Utah or water supply? These are just things I did but they also have roads for transportation, how the weather effects that. I think we've gotten much better at that with an overall improved forecast.”

He started as an intern and designed the program for the weather service. He explains the four areas he has focused on through the years.

“The first part is water supply during the winter months. Then we have flash flooding with intense thunderstorms, southern Utah, we warn for those events and try and educate the parks and monuments how it all works. And then I work with the Forest Service after wildfires to predict debris flows when we have thunderstorms. And then I was the climate change person for the entire career. So, all four of these things were really interesting and really dynamic.”

McInerny says reservoir storage is the way they evaluate water supply. While northern Utah is looking good this year, Southern Utah is experiencing drought conditions.

“Deer Creek is 93% full right now in the run-off hasn't even started. Jordanelle is 85%. If you look over in Pineview, they’re at 76%. Our reservoir storage is the be all end all for water supply. That's what you want. You want to fill the reservoirs and it looks like we're going to do that this year to a large extent, except for the big ones like Lake Powell. They’re only about 45% full.”

That’s retiring State Hydrologist Brian McInerny. He says the recent dry, hot summers have left most of the state in moderate to severe drought conditions from Utah County southward. He says, in Utah, hotter, dryer conditions will continue through this century, shortening winters and reducing snowpack.