UTAH DROUGHT

Lake-effect drought? New study shows a shrinking Great Salt Lake may exacerbate Utah’s drought conditions

Jul 10, 2024, 2:00 PM

Shrinking Great Salt Lake...

The shrinking water level shown along Great Salt Lake near Antelope Island, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/AP )

(Rick Bowmer/AP )

This article is published through the Great Salt Lake Collaborative, a solutions journalism initiative that partners news, education and media organizations to help inform people about the plight of the Great Salt Lake.

SALT LAKE CITY — A new study by scientists at Utah State University shows that a shrinking Great Salt Lake may exacerbate drought conditions along the entire Wasatch Front. 

“As the Great Salt Lake water body is shrinking, that local precipitation caused by a storm event is going to decrease,” Dr. Wei Zhang, an associate professor of climate science at USU and one of the study’s authors, told FOX 13 News on Monday.

Using a series of meteorological models as a case study, USU researchers found that, in essence, the shrinking Great Salt Lake can create its own vicious cycle of drought.

“So this is going to trigger a negative feedback,” Dr. Zhang explained. “As the water body decreases, that precipitation decreases in the Great Salt Lake Basin. That shrinks the water body. Then the precipitation decreases.”

The study, published recently in the Journal of Hydrometeorology, utilized forecast models that found reductions in precipitation as the lake continued to decrease.

“In general, if the lake goes 100% to 0%, in other words it completely dries up, there will be a 50% reduction in convective precipitation primarily along the Wasatch Front but southeast of Great Salt Lake. In other words, Salt Lake City,” said Dr. Robert Gillies, the head of the Utah Climate Center at USU and the state climatologist.

The Great Salt Lake is famous for its ability to amplify storms. “Lake-effect snow” can pump out more snow in the mountains and boost Utah’s lucrative ski industry (95% of Utah’s drinking water supply also comes from snowpack). But the USU study is another dire warning of what can happen when the lake shrinks.

Continue reading at gslnews.org.

Related reading: New initiative seeks to solve Great Salt Lake’s woes

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Lake-effect drought? New study shows a shrinking Great Salt Lake may exacerbate Utah’s drought conditions