Water and weather experts are warning of “moderate” to “severe” droughts throughout nearly all of Utah after the state experienced one of its driest spring seasons in recorded history.
Glen Merrill, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Salt Lake City office, told the Legislative Water Development Commission on Monday that precipitation levels throughout most of Utah were “well above normal” heading into the year due to an abnormally wet spring season in 2019 — the second wettest since the late 1800s.
Normal temperatures in northern Utah and below-average temperatures in southern Utah for the month of March made experts optimistic about the upcoming months.
“And couple that with still quite decent normal to above-normal precipitation, and we headed into April looking really good,” said Merrill.
The rosy picture dulled between April 15 and May 15, according to Merrill, a time period where Utah was “largely precipitation-void.”
“And that was a contributing factor in how our water year has started to take a little bit of a nosedive,” Merrill said.
Merrill told the legislative commission that a combination of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation in June has created a drought that is “starting to expand across the state.”
“We were nearly drought-free after last year’s spring going into the summer season across the area, because … we had our second wettest spring on record,” the meteorologist said. “This year, by the way, was the third driest on record.”
A map of monthly precipitation prepared by the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center shows that vast areas of southern and central Utah had between 0% and 30% average precipitation in May.
This is the case for nearly all of Utah County, with the exception of northern parts of the county that had 30%-50% average precipitation.
Additionally, temperatures throughout most of the state, from north to south, were 1-3 degrees Fahrenheit above average during the month of May.
A United States Drought Monitor map shows that, as of June 16, nearly all of Utah is designated as having a “moderate drought” intensity.
The western half of Utah County, including Eagle Mountain, Saratoga Springs, Cedar Fort and Fairfield, is listed as having “severe drought” intensity.
Northeast Juab County, just miles away from the southeast corner of Utah County, is the only area in the state designated as having “extreme drought” intensity.
The only regions in the state that have no drought intensity are Daggett County and the northern parts of Uintah and Box Elder counties.
“Pretty much the whole state (is) in some sort of elevated drought status,” Merrill told the commission. “And that’s a direct result of the weather conditions over the last few months being exceptionally warm and dry.”
Utah Division of Water Resources Engineer Laura Haskell told the commission that reservoirs throughout the state “are struggling with capacity,” adding that water levels in most of these reservoirs have peaked for the year and are starting to decline.
“We’d like to see these reservoirs full for the year starting off the summer,” Haskell said. “Unfortunately, they aren’t in some areas.”
Abnormally little rain and snowfall has led to increased wildfire risk in Utah County and throughout the state.
Kaitlyn Webb, a wildfire communications specialist with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, told the Daily Herald Thursday that the dry spring season has resulted in “a much busier” wildfire season than normal.