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Utah snowpack above normal this season, helping reservoirs and reducing wildfire risk

Jupiter Peak.
Park City Mountain
Jupiter Peak.

February storms boosted Utah’s snowpack above normal levels for this time of year. The Great Salt Lake and Utah’s reservoirs benefit from the increased water.

The Utah Snow Survey measures and monitors snowpack across the state. The data about snowpack helps with conservation planning, water supply management, flood control, drought and avalanche predictions, climate modeling and recreation.

There are 138 Snow Telemetry, or SNOTEL, weather station sites to measure snowpack in Utah and 900 in the Intermountain West. Jordan Clayton is the snow survey supervisor for the Utah Snow Survey. He said while the sites are helpful for recreation purposes, their main purpose is to determine the snow water equivalent of the snowpack.

“The main reason why we put in these weather stations was for water supply forecasting," Clayton said. "We want to understand how much water we're going to get when all this snow melts.”

After the Great Salt Lake’s historic low in November 2022, he said Utah needs all the snow and water it can get. The record snowpack last year helped, but Utah lawmakers and residents alike have been hoping for another above-normal snowpack year. More snowpack helps outdoor recreation and boosts the Great Salt Lake and reservoir levels.

Clayton said the slow start to the 2023-2024 winter season caused concern which faded by February.

“December was pretty disappointing and we were getting pretty nervous from a snow survey perspective," he said. "Then February came along and really got us back on track to where we want to be.”

Clayton said six of the SNOTEL weather stations broke a record in February. As of March 14, the state is at about 123% of the normal snow water equivalent.

“We're guaranteed now to have an above-normal snowpack season for the state of Utah,” Clayton said.

He said any new snow this season is now like a bonus. Utah’s reservoirs, excluding Lake Powell, are at 82% capacity, 30% higher than this time last year, he said. That means a lot of the water the state gets this season can go to the Great Salt Lake.

Soil moisture in the state is also above normal right now, which helps get water into reservoirs and lakes.

“When we have really dry, kind of parched soils, they soak up a lot of that snow moisture, and it doesn't make it downstream,” Clayton said.

Fire danger and flooding are also impacted by snowpack. If the snow melts slowly, it lowers the flooding risk. A slow melt also keeps the soil moist, reducing wildfire danger.