Snowpack in Tooele County is right where it needs to be for this time of year, but the bitter cold that has hit the area may be why snow totals aren’t higher than average.
According to Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor at the Salt Lake Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack in Tooele County is currently running at 108 percent of average. “Anything between 90 and 110 percent is average,” Julander said. “That means things are looking good so far, but we’ve got to knock on wood.”
The Rocky Basin measuring station in the Oquirrh Mountains is currently at 91 percent of normal. The Mining Fork measuring station in the Stansbury Range is at 131 percent of normal, and the Vernon Creek measuring station is at 110 percent of normal.
Currently, Settlement Creek is at 30 percent of capacity, Vernon Creek is at 33 percent of capacity and Grantsville is at 24 percent of capacity. “Grantsville is a little on the low side,” Julander said. “That’s not something we like to see at this time of year, but Grantsville used a lot of water last year.”
Julander said although snowpack is currently where it should be and the reservoir levels are a little lower than he’d like to see, anything can happen throughout the rest of the winter.
“We still have half of January and all of February, March and April for snow accumulation,” he said. “Anything can happen. It could go dry, wet or stay average. While we like what we’re seeing right now with snowpack, there’s a lot of winter left in front of us.”
Last year’s lack of snowpack, dry, warm winter and droughtstricken summer are a major difference from this year’s winter that’s had a couple of key storms and extremely cold temperatures, Julander said.
“It’s as cold as a mother-inlaw’s kiss out there,” he said.
“When temps are cold like this, we typically don’t get snow and things tend to dry out because cold air doesn’t hold moisture. Cold temps aren’t conducive to snowpack, but right now we are sitting at average so I think — and hope — we’ll be OK.” The freezing cold temperatures are just as bad for Tooele County residents as they are for the snowpack, Julander said. According to the National Weather Service, temperatures got as cold as -1 degree Fahrenheit around 8 a.m. Monday.
“I would anticipate that the majority of the cold-weather problems would come in the domestic water supply going to people’s houses,” Julander said.
Spencer Peck, owner and operator of A Perfect Plumber in Tooele, said many residents’ water heaters will freeze in extremely cold temperatures, especially if their heaters are on the outside of their homes or are in the basement near one of the home’s outside walls. Peck said it can also depend on what direction the house faces. If there are certain sides that don’t get sun, and the water heater is on that side, it’s more prone to freeze. As of early Monday afternoon, Peck had received four phone calls regarding frozen pipes.
Jim Bolser, community development and public works director at Tooele City, said he doesn’t know the exact number of calls the city has received with reports of frozen water lines in the past few days or over the winter. But as of Monday morning when the city opened for business, it had received four reports.
Bolser said the city has not placed any sort of device on water meters that helps prevent freezing; however, he said sometimes small amounts of insulation have been placed around meters in the meter boxes to help deter freezing.
“We have also seen a number of cases in past years where residents have done the same thing on their own,” he said. “In those cases we have tried to be careful in removing and resetting that insulation when dealing with a problem in the meter box.” Peck said another option residents have to keep pipes from freezing is to leave a faucet running at night.
“The best option if your heater is prone to freezing, is to keep one or two faucets running a trickle on the hot side to keep water running through the pipes at night,” Peck said. “If the pipes freeze and the ice thaws and expands, it can burst the pipes and will cause a bigger problem.” Peck said residents can also purchase heat tape, which can be plugged into a wall and wrapped around water pipes, to keep pipes from freezing.
“The tape keeps the heat on the pipe,” he said. “It’s much safer than space heaters because those can start fires. You have to be careful with those, which is why heat tape is the safest way.”