Bring on the atmospheric river (to ease the Utah drought)

Oct 26, 2021, 8:29 PM | Updated: 10:05 pm
Brighton Ski Resort atmospheric river...
FILE: Utah's Brighton Ski Resort Photo credit: Derek Petersen, KSL TV

SALT LAKE CITY — You can blame the lack of high- or low-pressure systems for all the rain that’s dampened outdoor plans in Utah over the last few days. 

And dumped six inches of rain on Lake Tahoe. And nearly 1 1/4 inches of rain at Salt lake International Airport Tuesday morning. As well as 12 inches of the greatest snow on earth at Alta Ski Resort.

All of that precipitation was contained in an atmospheric river, or stream of water vapor moving across the sky like a river moves across the earth.

This particular storm originated in the tropics of the Pacific and has been moving east unhampered by any pressure systems. With no pressure systems to dissipate its energy, the river held on to its strength.

And soaked the soil in Utah.

The atmospheric river and Utah’s drought

The soaking is a move in the right direction toward putting our mega-drought behind us. 

“Our average monthly total for October is 1.26 inches of precipitation,” said KSL Meteorologist Kevin Eubank, “and we got 1.23 out of this storm.

“So an entire month’s worth of rain out of a single storm,” Eubank said.

The timing of the storm is good. Utah has started a new water year and saturating the soil ahead of winter is what we need, Eubank said. The saturation helps when the spring run-off begins next year. But it’s not all we need.

“If you’re looking at the drought in total, it takes as long to get out of a drought as it likely takes to get in it,” he said. “It’s going to take years for us to truly get out of this drought. We’re going to need lots of precipitation and lots of water to get into our reservoirs and lakes to help replenish them.”

And we’ll need that precipitation to be consistent over the next several years.

At the beginning of September, Utah’s Division of Natural Resources reported that the statewide average for reservoir capacity was at 52% (not including Lake Powell or Flaming Gorge.)

You can keep an eye on daily precipitation levels here.

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Bring on the atmospheric river (to ease the Utah drought)