Report: ‘Utah’s snowpack is fantastic this year’

Southeast Utah at 203 percent of average, compared to 45 percent in ’18

Ken’s Lake water levels shrank to alarming levels in 2018, but a snowy winter in the La Sal Mountains should fill the reservoir during the runoff later this spring. Expected runoff should cover the dry and barren beaches in this scene.
Photo by Doug McMurdo

A much wetter and snowier winter than anyone expected yielded snowpack levels that were way above normal throughout Utah – and nowhere was that more apparent than in southeastern Utah, where it was 203 percent above normal, according to Troy Brosten, a Salt Lake City-based hydrologist and snow surveyor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which operates under the umbrella of the United States Department of Agriculture.

The year 2018, by contrast, left a dismal snowpack that was 45 percent of southeastern Utah’s normal amount.

Snowpack statewide was up 140 percent of normal compared to two-thirds of normal statewide – 64 percent – in 2017-2018.

“It’s official,” wrote Brosten in his statement. “Utah’s snowpack is fantastic this year.”

The information SNOTEL (snow telemetry) sensors provided as of April 1, the day of the year Brosten said marks the typical peak of Utah’s snow accumulation season, provided positive news for a state that has seen several successive drought years.

While southeastern Utah’s 203 percent was highest in the state, southwestern Utah came in at 190 percent. The Upper Sevier was at 162 percent and the Bear and Northeastern Uinta regions came in at 118 and 115 percent, respectively, the lowest in the state.

Brosten said the 2018-2019 snowpack was “almost as good as the banner years of 2005 and 2011. While the whole state is doing quite well, southern Utah is having a particularly excellent winter.”

The precipitation continued into March, a month that ended at 146 percent of average, “which is the equivalent of five additional inches of water spread across Utah’s mountains, bringing the water-year-to-date total accumulation to 24.9 inches,” reported Brosten.

Southeastern Utah SNOTEL sites posted outstanding gains, he said, with around six inches of additional precipitation during March. Also, March’s precipitation in southeastern Utah was a robust 228 percent of average, bringing the seasonal accumulation to 159 percent of average, said Brosten.

Of course, all this water has to go somewhere, and Brosten said, “every forecast point in Utah is predicted to have 100 percent runoff this year, including 233 percent for Mill Creek at Sheley Tunnel near Moab. The streamflow for Mill Creek at the Sheley Tunnel is also predicted to be at 233 percent of average and a whopping 293 percent of average for south Creek Reservoir near Monticello.

Brosten said storage in Utah’s reservoirs has improved by three percent from March and the numbers show 65 percent of capacity compared to 77 percent in 2017-2018. Regarding Ken’s Lake and other small reservoirs, Brosten said he expects most small- to medium-size reservoirs will fill this year.