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January 9, 2014
Another summer of drought on horizon?

Despite cold temperatures and ample snowfall through much of December, Tooele has just a small chance of building up normal water stores before summer returns.

Snowpack levels across Tooele County are decent, particularly on the west side of the valley, said Randy Julander, a snow survey supervisor at the Salt Lake office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Above Tooele, Settlement Canyon was at 71 percent of normal as of Tuesday morning. Mining Fork above Grantsville was at 92 percent of normal, and Vernon Creek at 74 percent.

However, Tooele’s reservoirs started the season with substantial storage deficits, Julander said. Settlement Canyon Reservoir was in the best shape, at 30 percent of normal. Grantsville was at 24 percent, and Vernon 17 percent.

At this stage of the game, Julander said he gives Tooele a 10 to 15 percent chance of catching up to normal water stores before summer.

“We need a home run in the ninth inning,” he said. “It’s possible. It’s just not probable.”

To complicate matters, estimated soil moisture levels in Tooele are also below normal. Soil must be saturated before snowmelt begins to run off into creeks and reservoirs. Two cumulative years of drought have dried Tooele soils, and the valley will need to get substantially more snow than normal to make up the difference, Julander said.

With National Weather Service climate forecasts predicting average precipitation throughout northern Utah in the coming months, Julander said it looks as though Tooele is headed for a third consecutive year of drought.

“That’s not a good place to be,” he said.

The water deficit continues in spite of December’s weather, which was colder and wetter than normal. Tooele saw 2.17 inches of precipitation last month, according to figures from Ned Bevan, a cooperative weather observer in Tooele for the National Weather Service.

Normal December precipitation for the area is 1.48 inches. The extra half inch of precipitation brought Tooele within .2 inches of normal for the water year’s running total.

Julander attributed the impressive snowfall to Lake Effect, a climatic phenomenon relatively unique to Tooele. But Lake Effect generally happens in early winter, before the lake’s temperature drops. Though it could happen, Julander said it is unlikely that Tooele will see similar storms in months to come.

December also ran 6 to 8 degrees below normal, according to Bevan, with an average high of 33 degrees and an average low of 15 degrees, compared to a normal average high of 39.3 degrees and an average low of 23.1 degrees. Normals are based on data from the Western Regional Climate Center.

Though December did plunge the valley into temperatures as low as 2 degrees, Tooele managed to avoid breaking the area’s cold-weather record of -16, which was set in 1990.

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