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snowpack

While Colorado and Utah are prepping for a severe wildfire season this year, Montana, Wyoming and northern Idaho have been counting their lucky stars because all three states had a huge snowpack this season.

“We have the best snowpacks in the country,” said meteorologist Michael Richmond.

When all that snow melts, it’ll keep the forest wet and protected from fire.

However that doesn’t mean the region is free and clear.  Richmond said it may get hotter and drier than usual this summer. A lot of heat and no rain can dry out a forest within a week or two.

A menace lurks beneath the snow high up in the southern Rocky Mountains.

At first glance it seems innocuous, another piece of a dynamic alpine ecosystem, certainly unable to cause the cascade of problems scientists say it could. How could something so simple undermine our water infrastructure, stress wildlife and lengthen the wildfire season all at once?

For most of the winter it stays hidden, buried under blankets of snow. Then, the days grow longer. The sun’s rays begin to melt the top layers, causing water to percolate through the snow and ice or evaporate, revealing the villain of this story.

Dust.

Chelsea Naughton / KUER

A new report says climate change is hurting the ski industry, and a climate advocacy group says the Mountain West is particularly vulnerable.

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest Utah Avalanche Forecast Center

Utah sees an average of four avalanche deaths a year.

But this winter’s tally bucked the odds. It was the state’s first snow season in 26 years that no one died in an avalanche.

Lynn Kitchen / NCRS

Utah’s warm, dry winter means a measly snowmelt, and water-watchers are already writing off this water year as one of the state’s driest ever even though it’s just halfway over.

Most years, the dogs splashing in Parley’s Creek would find the water here cold and swift with spring snowmelt. But the stream’s running at about one-third of normal for this time of year, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. Forecasters say there’s no more runoff to look forward to.

Wolfgang Staudt / Flickr Creative Commons

 

The runoff will start tapering to an end soon in northern Utah after near normal flows. But southern parts of the state are still starved for moisture.

Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, says many of the reservoirs in northern Utah are doing alright even though it’s been a pretty dry spring. Meanwhile, big storms have been drenching Colorado and making the Green and Colorado Rivers roar.

Utah State University

  The world’s leading climate scientists and policymakers met in Japan over the weekend and released their latest assessment of global warming. They agree the climate is heating up because people burn so much fossil fuel.

Here in Utah, leaders are brainstorming about how to deal with the changing climate.

Don Sharaf / American Avalanche Institute

Rain and snow drenched northern Utah this weekend, bringing moisture that will make a big difference in spring and summer. 

Randy Julander works for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. He monitors Utah’s snowpack. He also watches water levels in Utah’s streams and reservoirs with an eye on what that means for irrigation and drinking water. Last week his office reported that snowpack was just 75 percent of normal statewide. Julander says key reservoirs were less than half full.