Weather forecast for Utah this summer looks bleak, experts say

Weather across the country will be menacing this summer, peppered with above-average temperatures, below-average rainfall and worsening drought conditions — pretty much summing up what forecasters are expecting in Utah.

The Beehive State is in the “bullseye” for the highest probabilities of above-normal temperatures in June, July and August, said Glen Merrill, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

“It’s something we can expect to see again, as we’ve seen over the last several years,” Merrill said, citing climate change.

According to the National Weather Service, “normal” high temperatures in Salt Lake City average 84 degrees in June, 94 in July, and 91 in August. In St. George these averages are 96 degrees in June, 101 in July and 99 degrees in August.

Utah is on track to be even hotter this summer — and drier than normal, although “normal” is very dry. Salt Lake City typically gets 0.95 inches of rainfall in June, 0.49 inches in July, and 0.58 inches in August.

“Once we get into June, until about mid-July, it’s the driest time in the entire region climatologically,” Merrill said. “We can rely on that. It’s just what happens annually.”

The drought will intensify despite monsoon rains

Although northern Utah can expect below-average rainfall this summer, southern Utah could — at least in part — experience above-average rainfall.

“Last summer we had a pretty exceptional monsoon wave, particularly in July and August, and this year similar signals are on the horizon for at least one decent monsoon, particularly in southern Utah,” he said. “The question is, how far north does it go?”

Even if all predictions are wrong and Utah gets above-average rain this summer, it won’t do much to alleviate the ongoing drought. The Utah Division of Water Resources reported that as of May 24, 99.47% of the state is experiencing severe drought or worse and 55.67% of Utah is experiencing extreme drought.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pineview Reservoir, a popular resort town in the Ogden Valley, was only a quarter full on Thursday, August 12, 2021.

“In this state, it’s during the winter months that we see the majority of precipitation,” Merrill said. Between 90% and 95% of the state’s water supply comes from winter snow and spring runoff. “Last winter it snowed more than last year, but it was still below average.”

According to the Division of Water Resources, snow cover in 2021-22 peaked at 12 inches of snow-water equivalent (the amount of water that would result if the snow melted) — just 75% of the normal total, 16 inches.

“We started the October-December season with a bang,” he said. “And then January and February were one of the driest periods on record, especially in our mountains. … It will take a couple of years of above-average rainfall in the winter months to fully pull us out of this situation.”

It doesn’t help that this year’s snowpack is melting earlier and faster than usual. “We hit snowpack about two weeks earlier than normal,” Merrill said — around March 25 rather than April 7-10. “And we’re losing that snow faster.”

Snow cover is expected to disappear two to three weeks earlier than normal. “And the sooner that happens, the longer the hot dry season lasts,” he said.

More flash floods?

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mario Capecchi Drive on the University of Utah campus is closed Sunday, August 1, 2021 due to flooding in Salt Lake City.

While there’s a good chance of rain and thunderstorms this summer, the risk of flash flooding is more “random and very localized,” Merrill said.

2021 saw flash flooding across the state — including Cedar City, Hanksville, Enoch, Zion National Park, Salt Lake City, and more. A flash flood derailed a train in Iron County and another killed a man at a mine in Emery County.

“We have similar conditions this year,” Merrill said.

That could mean more flash flooding, especially in southern Utah. “That’s something we have to watch out for,” he said.

risk of forest fires

The fire potential in June will be above normal, especially in southern Utah, according to the National Weather Service.

According to the Great Basin Coordination Center, which coordinates firefighting efforts in Utah, Nevada and parts of Idaho and Wyoming, the greatest danger is in the higher elevations of central and southern Utah “due to ongoing drought problems.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Crews battle the Parleys Canyon fire on Saturday, August 14, 2021.

There’s good news: Although many mountains in Utah, particularly in the northern part of the state, currently look green, “fine fuel loading” — the growth of grasses that dry up and provide fuel for wildfires — is lower than it has been in recent years, according to the GBCC.

That means there will be “very little fine fuel carryover” into the 2022 fire season in most areas.

However, the concern this year is more for the larger fuels, Merrill said.

“Lumber the size of your arm or your leg – these are the things that continue to dry out annually during this drought,” he continued. “And they carry fire better, too, especially in the upper register.”

The high potential for wildfires will extend into northern Utah in July and August, “but there is less potential for significant wildfires in the south as we get closer to the monsoon months,” Merrill said.

Possible downpours — and flooding — could actually be helping firefighters battle blazes in parts of the state this summer. “The only thing we’re hoping for this year is to get enough of these thunderstorms in southern and central Utah to quell the potential for wildfires,” Merrill said.

The hydrologist said he’s usually the optimistic type. But he tried to sound upbeat about Utah’s weather this summer.

“There really isn’t too much positive to say about our drought conditions and this year’s water supply at the moment. Other than that, it’s not quite as bad as last year,” he said. “But yeah, last year was really bad.”

Editor’s Note • This story is available only to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers. Thank you for supporting local journalism. Weather forecast for Utah this summer looks bleak, experts say

Joel McCord

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