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Extension Education Highlight: Record snowfall

Snow pack at an intersection at Utah State University
Sariah Israelsen
Sariah Israelsen
Snow pack at an intersection at Utah State University taken April 4, 2023

Sariah Israelsen: You're listening to USU Extension Educational Highlight. I'm Sariah Israelsen, and joining me today is Scott Hotaling, assistant professor at USU, to talk about the record snowfall we've had this winter. Welcome, Scott!

Scott Hotaling: Thanks. Good to be here.

Sariah Israelsen: So first off, Scott, just tell me a little bit of how this amount of snow this year in comparison the amount of snow that we've gotten in the past couple of years.

Scott Hotaling: So I mean, compared to the last couple of years, this is much, much more historically, though, we can even put it in kind of even bigger context. So, since we started a quantitative network of snow telemetry in the state, where we actually have automated snow measuring stuff, it's called the SNOTEL Network, since 1981.

This is by far the largest snowpack statewide that's ever been on record. It's about 15% larger than the previous record, which was 1983.

Sariah Israelsen: So why are we getting so much snow?

Scott Hotaling: I mean, it's a pretty complex question that I'm not an atmospheric scientist. I'm a watershed scientist. So, I study what happens once the snow is on the ground and gets into rivers and streams.

But the actual process for where this weather is coming from is certainly larger and more complex than my expertise. But the basic premise is that we're getting a lot of a lot of big storm systems out of California, as we often do in Utah, but they're coming with a lot of moisture.

And rather than, you know, sometimes in past years, it might get warmer, warmer weather that causes more of that snow to fall as rain, which is a long-term trend that we're seeing in Utah. But instead, this year, we've been a bit cooler than normal. And that means all of that precipitation is falling as snow, and it's building up and staying on the ground.

Sariah Israelsen: Do you know what this means for the drought that we've been having here in Utah?

Scott Hotaling: The drought isn't over. We can't stop all water conservation measures or just move on. That kind of wishful thinking has gotten us in trouble with water management in Utah in the past.

So, it's important that we keep our eye on the ball as it relates to water issues. But the drought has certainly improved. And so, there's a drought index that is maintained that has different levels from no drought all the way to extreme or exceptional drought and Utah.

At the same time, last year, we had a good portion of the state was in that worst category, the exceptional drought. And we have I think none of the state as of today is in that exceptional drought category. But there certainly still is a lot of drought statewide.

Sariah Israelsen: So is there anything else about this snowfall that you want to mention?

Scott Hotaling: So the I mean, the biggest thing is it's historic, and it's fun to have so much snow in the mountains, if you're someone who likes to recreate in the winter.

The two things I'll add is one, this is not the future of Utah's snowpack. So as the climate changes, and the planet gets warmer, we're seeing less and less snow falling, and more of our precipitation falls as rain. So I would encourage people that love snow, even the people that kind of are tired of it, to really savor this level of snowpack.

I mean, it's not going to be the normal, it's already not the normal, and it's certainly going to be more rare going forward. So yeah, just appreciate it while it's here, even if it might be even if folks might be a little bit tired of it.

Sariah Israelsen: Good advice. I'm one of those folks that is kind of a little tired about it.

Scott Hotaling: And luckily, it'll be it'll be gone soon. And things are going to warm up in the coming week or so. And so, another thing to watch out for is that with this was snow in the mountains that record year I mentioned earlier as 1983.

And while I wasn't in Utah in 1983, I'm sure some listeners were, and they remember that there was a whole lot of flooding that came with that record snowpack. And so, let's hope that we get a slower warm up and not anything really fast that will melt all that snow really quickly.

Sariah Israelsen: Yeah, that is the hope we don't want to be flooding our basements.
Well, thank you for talking me about this, Scott. That was super helpful. Yeah, you're welcome. And thank you all for joining in today and make sure you tune in again next week.