Wet winter is ‘historic’

Local creeks flood; EMS responds to Fisher Towers rock fall accident

Steady rainfall has sent waterfalls cascading down cliffs along the Colorado River.
Photo by Adam Flanders

The nonstop rain that fell on southeastern Utah earlier this week might have made life miserable for some folks – a flood advisory was issued for the Mill Creek area on Wednesday, March 13, someone was injured by falling rocks at Fisher Towers, and hikers were turned back from trails – but at least it wasn’t the so-called “bomb cyclone” that struck more than 70 million people from the Rockies to South Dakota.

Details of the Fisher Towers incident weren’t available at press time, but ambulances had been dispatched to the scene. A rescue helicopter was unable to respond due to low clouds and heavy rain.

Meanwhile in Moab, people experienced a relatively gentle and prolonged rain that made giant puddles and waterfalls from cliffs, it boiled up into something more violent and potentially deadly as it headed east toward Denver, where travelers were advised to cancel trips, especially east of Highway 125.

Wind gusts up to 110 mph were forecasted for Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma as strong cyclonic winds impacted much of the U.S., according to a report from CNN.

While the wind is a constant in the West, the precipitation that has fallen throughout the contiguous United States from December through February made for “the wettest winter on record,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – and that doesn’t include the first two weeks of March in southeastern Utah, which saw rain eight of the first 13 days of the month.

Local NWS record keeper Ron Pierce said 0.84th of an inch of rain fell in Moab in the 24 hours between 12:30 p.m. Tuesday and 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. A total of 1.93 inches of rain have fallen in March, a month that averages 89-hundredths of an inch of precipitation, said Pierce. (See related story about local snowpack exceeding 142 percent, year to date, Page A4.)

While winter 2018-2019 is one for the record books, another “historic” record has been broken in Colorado, where officials claim that more than 2,000 avalanches have struck snow-capped slopes this year, making for extreme avalanche danger rarely witnessed.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s avalanche forecast for the La Sal Mountains was rated “high” for upper elevations and “considerable” elsewhere, according to Mark Staples of the Utah Avalanche Center.

It doesn’t help that water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean have been rising, but the nation is also in the middle of a warm El Niño – which has contributed to the wetter – and snowier – than average winter.

The good news is that Wednesday’s downpour will be the last of the rain in southeastern Utah for the next week, according to the National Weather Service. While Thursday and Friday will be partly cloudy with highs in the low 40s, the weekend will be sunny and a bit warmer. Monday through Wednesday will be a mix of sun and clouds with more rain possible on March 21.