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Deeper snowpacks happen after wildfires in Utah

PANGUITCH, UT - JUNE 25: A wildfire burns through trees and ground cover on June 25, 2017 outside Panguitch, Utah. The fire named the "Brian Head Fire" started last week and has burned more then 43,000 acres and destroyed 13 homes as of June 25th. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

A new study looks at what wildfires do to the snowpack level in Utah.

“As burn severity increases, as the fire burns more completely, more snow accumulates in the system. And more water is held in that snow, which is important for our water supply,” said BYU biology professor Sam St. Clair, who led the research.

BYU researchers and students hiked and cross-country skied around in the mountains in deep snow over two winters.

Even as devastating as wildfires are, a deeper snowpack seems like a great side effect — at first.

“More snow is always better, but it depends on the wildfire effects on the landscape,” said St Clair.

He said it depends on the contour of the mountain, and whether it is a north or south facing slope.

Snowpack on a north facing slope stays shaded and cold longer, so the melt-off is slower. That fills the reservoirs. But south facing melts off faster, which increases flooding and mudslide risks.

“As burn severity increases, as the fire burns more completely, more snow accumulates in the system. And more water is held in that snow, which is important for our water supply,” said St. Clair. “Now we can map that information out on the landscape, and identity areas that are vulnerable and areas where there will be increased water yields into our reservoirs.”

Read the full study here: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/ab5de8