Spring doesn’t officially start until March 20, but Mother Nature didn’t get the memo.
February temperatures averaged three to four degrees above normal, with an overall average high of 48 degrees and an average low of 29 degrees, according to data from Ned Bevan, a cooperative weather observer in Tooele for the National Weather Service.
Toward the end of the month, daily highs came within eight degrees of breaking the area’s all-time heat record for the month of February. That record was set in 1972 at 70 degrees, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.
Tooele County can anticipate continued above-average temperatures throughout the month of March, according to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.
“It’s quite unusual, but you can’t predict the weather — you never know what the weather will do,” said Lynn Taylor, watermaster for Grantsville Irrigation Company.
The warm temperatures brought a strange mix of spring-like weather to the county’s valleys, which saw as little as 4 inches of snowfall during the month, compared to a normal of 14.1 inches, according to Bevan.
However, the water situation is not quite so dire as the lack of snow might suggest. Rainfall brought the month’s total precipitation to 1.37 inches, .04 inches above normal. Still, Tooele remains about .3 inches behind on the water year, which began last October.
Snowpack continues to build in most of the surrounding mountains. Snotel sensors at the Rocky Basin station above Settlement Canyon recorded 49 inches as of the first of the month, and the Mining Fork station above Grantsville stood at 44 inches of snow — about 78 percent of normal for Rocky Basin, and about 99 percent of normal for Mining Fork.
The warm weather may have brought some early melting with it. The Vernon Creek station currently sits at 25 inches of snow, or roughly 82 percent of normal. That station is down by about an inch since mid-February. In Grantsville, Taylor said flow gauges stationed near the reservoir have recently picked up a slight increase in runoff.
Although snowpack levels are within normal ranges, experts across the state continue to talk of drought. Taylor said there is concern that a portion of the mountain snow won’t make it to the valleys this year, because dry mountain soils will absorb some of the snowmelt before it can run into creeks and reservoirs.
Drought persists across more than 50 percent of the state, according to the USDA’s U.S. Drought Monitor. Likewise, drought conditions remain relatively unchanged in Tooele County, where the USDA has declared county-wide drought conditions. Drought conditions are considered severe for about half of the county.
“But you look at the snowpack, and we’re doing OK,” Taylor said. “We’ll get by with what we have.”