Dry as dust.
That sums up the 2017-18 Water Year that ended last Sunday with Tooele City several inches behind normal in precipitation and barely an inch of rain reaching the ground from June through September.
According to Ned Bevan, National Weather Service observer in Tooele City, the water year, which began on Oct. 1, 2017, ended at 10.49 inches of total precipitation. Normal precipitation by Sept. 30 of each year in the city is 18.49 inches.
More than half of that 8-inch deficit was caused by a summer with too many days of clear skies and hot temperatures — and not enough rain.
“Precipitation was zero in June and zero in September,” Bevan said. “We only had 76 hundredths of an inch during July and August.”
Normal precipitation during that four-month period is 4.39 inches.
“Without looking it up, I don’t remember it ever being this dry,” Bevan said. “I can’t speak for the drought years of the 1930s, but this could be the driest.”
The last month of the water year had an average high of 84.1 degrees and average low of 54.8 degrees, according to Bevan. Sept. 8 was the hottest day of the month at 91 degrees and coldest maximum temperature of 68 degrees was on Sept. 26.
The warmest minimum temperature was 70 degrees on Sept. 30 and the coldest minimum temperature was 41 degrees on Sept. 25.
As for other water year facts, Bevan noted total snowfall at his NWS reporting station was only 28.3 inches. Normal total snowfall is 84.4 inches.
The first snowfall of the water year occurred on Nov. 17 with the last on April 17, according to Bevan. The first frost arrived on Oct. 3, 2017 and the last on April 18. The hottest temperature of the water year was 103 degrees on July 6 and the coldest on Feb. 21 when the thermometer tipped 5 degrees.
The below normal precipitation has taken a toll on the county’s soil profiles.
The latest National Weather Service U.S. Drought Monitor map shows Tooele County under a Severe Drought (D2) status. D0 means abnormally dry, D1 moderate drought, D3 extreme drought and D4 exceptional drought.
Continued below normal water years and deepening drought across the county has Bevan worried about the future.
“You know, what concerns me is if we don’t have a better winter, we could be in a lot of trouble next summer as a community,” he said.
And if a series of poor snowpack winters continue, or become the new normal, that trouble will worsen, he fears.
“It’s not just a matter of drinking water or irrigation water,” he said. “But will there be enough water to fight fires, too?”
Bevan said local wells and springs that serve residents with drinking water, irrigation water, and other related services, rely heavily on having good winters with plenty of snow.
“They’re all hinged on snowpack,” he said.
Just how much snow Bevan’s reporting station might measure this winter is anyone’s guess. According to the 90-day forecast by the National Weather Service, there is a 40-50 percent chance of Tooele County experiencing above normal temperatures, with an equal chance of above, normal and below normal precipitation during the period.
Adding to the mystery is the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, which says there is a 50-55 percent chance of El Nino forming in the Pacific Ocean this fall and increasing to 65-70 percent during this winter.
The term El Nino refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific, according to the National Weather Service. When El Nino conditions are present, warmer-than-average and wetter-than-average conditions are likely to occur in Utah during winter.
The term El Nina represents conditions opposite of El Nino, which can result in cooler-than-average and drier-than-average weather conditions in Utah during winter.
While Tooele County has a severe drought status, there are other parts of the state that have it worse. Nearly the entire eastern half of Utah has been listed at D3 (extreme drought) with a pocket of D4 (exceptional drought) in the center and southeastern portion of the state.