USU climatologist: we have serious work to do to get out of the drought

Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert issued an Executive Order on Oct. 18, declaring a state of emergency due to drought after meeting with the State’s Drought Review and Report Committee. It’s the first time in 10 years Utah’s drought conditions have reached a point the Committee was called together to review and report water conditions across the state.

Johnson reservoir near Preston shows the result of a dry summer and low snow pack and a well-used resource.

State officials said drought conditions have become so dire for several areas within the state that their economies are likely to be severely impacted.

Six rural Utah counties have declared emergency drought disasters, including Box Elder, Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and Wayne counties.

Gov. Herbert said the rainfall we received recently helped, but the drought is at a level we haven’t seen for many years and will not be solved with a small series of storms.

Cache County was not included in the severely affected areas. However, Utah associate director of the climate center, climatologist Jon Meyer, said the state is seeing extremely dry times.

“The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collective data showed it is the driest year on record for 125 years,” Meyer said. “The state had exceptionally poor rainfall this year, after an exceptionally low snowfall.”

Most of the state’s snowpack is in the 20-40 percent range.

We only have up to go from here,” Meyer said. “Historically, we are in the midst of a five to seven year wet cycle. Two years ago we had record snowfall, and we are hoping we are somewhere in the middle of that cycle.”

He said Utah is a difficult place to forecast weather, we don’t have definite predictors. There are some levels that help predict the weather.

“It’s all about the position and strength of the jet steam,” Meyer said. “The jet stream giveth and the jet stream taketh, it is an unpredictable system.”

He said Cache Valley is in a favorable area because we live by the mountains. Other places in the state are dryer because they don’t have natural mechanisms like mountains to enhance the jet stream.

We have serious work to do to get out of the drought,” Meyer said. “Reservoirs are low, the ground is dry; serious amount of catch up to do.”

The data used for predicting weather comes from satellites, airplanes, weather satellites and surface stations.

Meyer said the early October rains have helped and given hope for a good water year, which begins the first of October and will end the end September 30, 2019.

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