Winter storm puts 2 feet of snow in parts of Utah. More on the way?

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Little Cottonwood Canyon overlooks the Salt Lake Valley and the snow-capped Oquirrh Mountains on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022. Parts of the canyon received 2 feet of snow over the weekend (Ben B. Braun, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s first winter storm of the season ultimately proved as productive as expected, nearly erasing the state’s October rainfall deficit in a single weekend.

Alta was the big winner from the storm, receiving 25 inches of snowfall over the weekend — half a foot above the region’s monthly normal of 24.4 inches, according to the National Weather Service. Solitude Ski Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon received 18 inches of snow among mountain leaders; Summit Park (10 inches), Tooele (7 inches) and West Jordan (5.5 inches) received the most areas in and around the Valleys, the agency added Monday.

The storm also produced a lot of water. Salt Lake City received 0.77 inches of rain over the weekend, helping the Utah capital back to just 0.14 inches below normal for this point in October. The city had only collected 0.02 inches of rain this month before the storm.

Precipitation in the mountains of Utah – a figure based on the average of 115 snow accumulation sites in the state – fell 0.2 inches of water on Friday, or 15% of normal for the hydrological year, at 1.2 inches Monday morning, or 80% of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The current hydrological year started on October 1st.

Parts of the Wasatch Mountains received more than 3 inches of water, the weather service reported. As a result, the Provo-Utah-Jordan River snowpack basin entered Monday at a resounding 1,900% of normal for this point in the season.

“It shows how successful this storm has been,” said KSL meteorologist Matt Johnson. “In the short term, it’s great. We like to start things (good).”

And there are more on the way this week.

What to expect in the short term

A smaller storm, coming from the Pacific Northwest, is expected to arrive in the state by Tuesday morning. More rain is expected in the valley for the northern half of Utah and snow in high elevation areas, according to Johnson.

“It’s not a strong storm. It’s nothing like we’ve seen for the past two days,” he explained.

The weather service adds More rain and snow are expected with another cold front moving through Wednesday afternoon, before a high pressure system returns Thursday afternoon, providing a cold but dry weekend. Combined, the models suggest the storms could produce nearly another foot in parts of the Wasatch Mountains, Johnson said.

Complete seven-day forecasts for Utah regions are available online at KSL Weather Center.

The long term outlook

More than half of Utah remains in at least one severe drought, according to the US Drought Monitor. Ongoing drought conditions are why this winter matters, as water experts say several good years of snowfall are needed to help the state emerge from drought.

Johnson warns that the rainfall over the weekend and this week, while good, isn’t exactly a window into what’s to come in the long term.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirmed last week one La Nina Ocean Pattern is in play for the third consecutive winter – only the third time a La Nina “triple dip” has occurred in the past 50 years. This is expected to bring above normal precipitation and below normal temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountain region, as well as below normal precipitation and above normal temperatures in the south. -west this winter.

In an online briefing Thursday, Jon Gottschalck, chief meteorologist for the agency’s operational forecasting branch, said the outlook is not a foregone conclusion, meaning “further results are possible”, but that these probabilities are “just less likely”. That outlook means parts of the western United States and southern Great Plains will more than likely be “the hardest hit this winter” when it comes to drought, he said.

“We expect widespread extreme drought to persist across much of the West, Great Basin and south-central Great Plains,” he said.

The 2022-2023 US Winter Outlook map for precipitation shows that wetter than average conditions are very likely in western Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies, the Great Lakes and the Valley from Ohio.  Drier than average conditions are forecast for parts of California, the Southwest, the southern Rockies, the southern Plains, the Gulf Coast and much of the Southeast.
The 2022-2023 US Winter Outlook map for precipitation shows that wetter than average conditions are very likely in western Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies, the Great Lakes and the Valley from Ohio. Drier than average conditions are forecast for parts of California, the Southwest, the southern Rockies, the southern Plains, the Gulf Coast and much of the Southeast. (Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Utah could go either way.

The agency’s projections list most of the state as “even odds,” meaning the winter could end with good, bad or average rainfall. The winter outlook also predicts that most of the state will receive above normal temperatures. He adds that Utah’s drought is expected to continue or worsen this season, although drought conditions may improve in northeastern parts of the state.

Gottschalck said western areas with “equal odds,” like most of Utah, are likely to experience more variability in the winter when it comes to storms and high-pressure systems bouncing weather. storms away from the state. This variability decreases in the southern part of the state, hence why it is listed as having a higher probability of below average rainfall.

It all comes down to where the high-pressure ridges have set up off the Pacific coast, he explained. La Nina tends to drive ridges into the north-central portion of the coast, allowing troughs – heavy, cold winter storms – to cross into the Pacific Northwest. A slight shift in where a ridge settles can alter the trajectory of a trough to the benefit or detriment of Utah.

“For example, if it moved just 20 degrees longitude west, a trough won’t impact (the) Pacific Northwest, it will impact the entire West Coast,” he said, adding that a ridge moving eastward from its normal location can result in below normal rainfall.

It’s possible Utah will receive a mix of the two, as it did last winter. A series of troughs, called “atmospheric rivers”, brought well above normal rainfall totals in October and December 2021. But strong high pressure systems created very dry patches in November 2021 and early in the year. In the end, the last snow season fell to around 75% of normal.

The state of the hive usually ends up in “even odds” during a La Nina winter due to this variability.

“It’s feast or famine,” Johnson said, explaining La Nina’s historic impact on Utah. “We had some good years (and) some really bad years, just like last year.”

Only time will tell what this year’s La Nina will deliver.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning journalist who covers general news, the outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a transplant from Utah via Rochester, New York.

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