Why is Utah getting walloped with snow this winter?

Jan 4, 2023, 5:30 PM | Updated: Jan 6, 2023, 12:20 pm
Hari Bastakoti shovels a sidewalk following a snowstorm in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022...
Hari Bastakoti shovels a sidewalk following a snowstorm in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)
(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Why is Utah receiving so much snow early this winter? A climatologist comes on to KSL NewsRadio to help explain. Hint: river of pineapples.

As of Tuesday morning, Utah’s total snowpack reached 175% of its usual amount. Water levels for 2023 are already the highest they have been in 10 years.

Dr. Jon Meyer, assistant state climatologist at the Utah Climate Center at Utah State University, joins KSL at Night co-hosts Leah Murray and Derek Brown to help explain why this winter is so snowy, yet beneficial. The Western United States is in a bad drought. How bad is it?

While there was a time in the 1500s when soil moisture content was drier than that of 2000 to 2018, tree-ring evidence shows that 2000 to 2021 was the driest 22-year period since at least the Year 800.

So good timing — to say the least — for a wet winter?

Pineapple Express brings snow — and plenty of it — to Utah

Meyer said what Utah is experiencing now is an atmospheric river pattern, which he said used to be called a Pineapple Express because humidity around the Hawaiian Islands is brought in bands of tropical moisture to Utah.

Extreme wintertime precipitation in Utah is usually correlated with atmospheric river events, Meyer added.

“I’m just gonna say I feel like Pineapple Express is a better word than atmospheric river. So if you were a part of the branding of that, I think you should go back,” Leah said.

“I wish I could take credit for that. . . . Scientists aren’t very good at branding,” Meyer said.

He added that if Utah can receive one or two atmospheric river events a year, then it’s a good moisture year.

“We have plenty of years where we don’t get any of them. It’s tough to get them to migrate around this year in Nevada and California, which is usually where the biggest impacts of these events go. But occasionally they sneak to the south or to the north, and they make it here to Utah.”

Good start to winter but more snow will be needed

The cycles of wet and dry periods in the state don’t match up with the rest of the Western United States, which experiences El Nino and La Nina weather patterns, he said.

In Utah, “It’s about 12 years in fact that it takes us to go from one dry phase to the next dry phase or one wet phase to the next wet phase,” Meyer said. “The evidence right now suggests that we are flipping that switch.”

Leah pointed out that all of Utah’s regional snowpack totals are above 150% of average.

“What does it mean to be that high of a snowpack?”

“The entire state right now is sitting at about 170% of normal for this time of year,” Meyer said. “In about 50 years of observations of our mountains snowpack, we’re about the 90th percentile of where we are at normally for this time of year. So this is about as an ideal starts to our first half of winter.”

Meyer pointed out last year Utah also saw a big snowy start to the year.

“When we entered the new year in January last year, things were off to a great start. And then we flatlined for most of January and February, and we ended up below average after being pretty optimistic at the turn of the new year.”

Related reading:

How bad is the Western drought? New study says worst in 1,200 years. You read that right.

Snow storm brings ‘blessings’ to Utah’s agriculture

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories


Utah reservoirs...
Becky Bruce

Winter has helped state’s drought Utah expert says, still, long road ahead

The Utah Division of Water Resources says it will take more winters like the one Utah has experienced this year for the state's drought to be over.
4 days ago
The Utah Division of WIldlife Resources has begun to provide emergency feed 
 to deer in Rich and S...
Mark Jones

DWR providing emergency feed to deer in northern Utah

Biologists with the Utah Division of Natural Resources has begun to provide emergency feed to deer in Rich and Summit counties. The feed is necessary due to the deep snowpacks in northern Utah.
5 days ago
inversion and poor air quality in utah pictured...
Britt Johnson

Utah air quality has been good, but that may change soon

Utah air quality is due to get worse as a high-pressure system moves into the state and blocks any storms from coming in.
5 days ago
two kids are pictured playing in the snow...
Adam Small

Low temperatures in Utah feeling even colder thanks to wind

The temperature in Utah has been chilly, and it's being made worse by recent wind winds.
5 days ago
Drivers in parts of Salt Lake and Tooele counties could be facing some winter driving conditions du...
Thomas Haraldsen

Light snow across Wasatch Front could still make for slick Friday commute

Despite light snow totals along the Wasatch Front, the cold temperatures could make any snow that falls stick to the road, making for a slick commute Friday morning.
9 days ago
powder alert...
Elizabeth Weiler

Ski Utah announces additional powder alert for the season

With a snowstorm ahead, Ski Utah has announced the second powder alert of the season with heavy snow totals in a majority of Utah.
12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
Why is Utah getting walloped with snow this winter?