WEATHER

Storms expected to help Utah snowpack, but we still need a lot more snow

Feb 15, 2021, 5:00 PM
summer 2021 temperature record salt lake city...
File: Rain is in the forecast for much of Utah on Friday. Photo: Paul Nelson

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s the kind of snowstorm we desperately need.  The National Weather Service is issuing a winter storm warning through early Wednesday morning, and they expect the mountains to get pounded with new powder.  Will the storms have a significant impact on our very low snowpack levels in Utah? 

Utah snowpack remains low even with storms

After an extremely dry winter, officials with the National Weather Service say the past few days have made a bit of a dent in Utah’s bad snowpack picture.  Just a few weeks ago, the snowpacks were roughly 50% of what they should be, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Brock Burghardt.  Now, those levels are sitting closer to 65%. 

The storms that forecasters say will last through Wednesday should drop a few more feet of snow on the mountains, adding even more to the Utah snowpack levels.

“We expect the higher snow totals to be across the northern Wasatch, especially in and around the Cottonwood canyons,” Burghardt said.

Forecasters expect another storm for later in the week, but Burghardt says the one lasting through Wednesday is likely going to be more potent.

“A lot of the other Utah mountains will see heavy snow accumulations on the order of one to two feet by Wednesday morning,” he said.  “The Cottonwood canyons are likely to see two to three feet by Wednesday morning.”

How much more do we need?

How much more snow would we need to back to “normal” levels?  Hydrologists say that’s hard to know for certain.  Utah Snow Survey Supervisor Jordan Clayton says there seems to be good water content in the powder falling on Utah, recently, but the snow gets drier the higher you climb.

At high elevations, Clayton said, “It’s that light and fluffy snowpack that people like to ski in.  There’s a reason it’s so light and fluffy, in that it’s low in water content.”

Generally, every ten inches of snow equates to one inch of water, Clayton says.  So, how many more inches do we need?

“It depends on which elevation bend you’re looking at.  For high elevation snow packs, it could wind up being closer to 40 or 50 inches more.  For lower elevations, maybe 30 is a good number,” according to Clayton.

Even if the state were to get that much snow, Clayton says there’s another problem.  The soils were so dry, a lot of the snowmelt will get absorbed back into the dirt and not into our reservoirs.

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Storms expected to help Utah snowpack, but we still need a lot more snow