Snowpack chart

The region’s on-again, off-again drought could be off again in 2020 — that is, if the high snowpack levels recorded so far this winter continue as expected.

The latest figures from the National Water and Climate Center indicate the snow-water equivalent for the Bear River Basin and much of the rest of Utah was well above normal as the new year began.

On Jan. 2, the snow-water equivalent in the Bear River Basin — which drains into Cache Valley — was gauged to be 115% of normal for this time of year, with a couple of locations within the basin at well above that, such as Franklin Basin at 124%, Monte Cristo at 128% and Bug Lake at 141%. The lowest snowpack reading in the basin was Spring Creek Divide at 88%.

Meanwhile, all regions statewide are also enjoying above-average readings, topped by Southwestern Utah at 222% of normal, the Escalante River Basin at 195% of normal, and the Upper Sevier River Basin at 186% of normal.

Utah Climate Center meteorologist Jon Meyer said long-range forecasts call for more of the same, with “a healthy frequency” of winter storms over the next several weeks.

Meyer said much of the state experienced moderate to severe drought conditions over the summer of 2019, the worst being in the Four Corners region.

A rebound, if it occurs, will add to a yo-yo pattern for the state going back a number of years.

“In recent years, the state’s water availability has been rather bi-polar, with 2016/2017 seeing a very strong snowpack — one of the best in a few decades —followed by 2017/2018’s worst drought in 125 years of record,” Meyer wrote in an email to The Herald Journal. “Last year was another good year with snowpack across the state in the top 15% historically. Discounting the record dry 2017/2018 season, the string of good years aligns with the scientific evidence suggesting Utah’s precipitation patterns cycle between wet and dry phases roughly every 4-6 years.”

Referring back to the 2020 outlook, Meyer offered this assessment:

“Based on the early-and-often arrival of this season’s snowfall and the promising start to this year’s snowpack combined with the forecast outlook for continued winter storm activity, I expect drought relief to some degree is already here. We just need it to melt.”

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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