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    Drought conditions grip Utah; stats are grim

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    What a difference a year makes. The monthly Climate and Water Report for June indicates the month’s precipitation was “much above average” in southeastern Utah at 234%, bringing this region of Utah to 91 percent of average for the months October through June.

    Drought conditions are obvious throughout the American Southwest
    A wash in Professor Valley near Moab shows no moisture in its parched sand. The last substantial rain in Moab was more than a month ago. Soil moisture percent is at 28% in southeastern Utah, according to state officials. Photo by Sena Hauer

    While that’s undoubtedly good news, soil moisture is at 28% compared to 61% last year and reservoir storage is at 68% of capacity. It was at 110% last year after a wet 2019.

    Elsewhere in Utah, June rainfall varied widely, according to Jordan Clayton of the Utah Snow Survey. On average, said the data collection officer, northern Utah valleys fared better than southern Utah, getting about 2.5 inches of precipitation compared to 1 inch in southern Utah.

    The lower elevations in the state have received about seven inches of rain since the water year began in October. That lack of rain and several high wind events, said Clayton, caused an “early and active” start to the fire season in the central and southern parts of the state.

    The arid heat also ratcheted up drought conditions from 90 percent a month ago to 96 percent by the end of June; and “even worse,” the area of severe drought in Utah “shot up to 48 percent of the state, from only 15 percent [in May].”

    While the valleys are dry, the mountains are also below normal, with precipitation October through June at 86% of average, said Clayton. It’s unlikely things will improve this late in the water year.

    “With less than 100 days to go until the end of the water year, chances are increasingly likely that Utah will wind up with below average overall precipitation totals, though some uncertainty remains due to potential contributions from the summer monsoon,” said Clayton. “The winter snowpack has now completely melted out. At its peak (roughly April 1), this year’s snowpack was slightly above average, but warm, dry conditions during April and May caused the snowpack to deteriorate more rapidly than normal at Utah’s SNOTEL sites, and forced below to well-below average April-July predicted runoff for Utah’s water supply forecasts.”

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