Floods, Droughts, and Extremes in Utah Snowpacks

TitleFloods, Droughts, and Extremes in Utah Snowpacks
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Conference2006
AuthorsJulander, Randall P.
Conference Name74th Annual Western Snow Conference
Series TitleProceedings of the 74th Annual Western Snow Conference
Date PublishedApril 2006
PublisherWestern Snow Conference
Conference LocationLas Cruces, NM
KeywordsExtremes, drought, tree rings, Colorado River, global warming, declining snowpack

Utah has seen hydrometeorological extremes over the past decade. Last year saw snowpack records not just exceeded but shattered at some sites. In one case, snowpack was 50.8 centimeters higher than the previous record long term maximum snow water equivalent. This single year erased the total deficit of the six previous drought years at this site. Other sites had record snowpack in southern and northeastern Utah. Previously, six consecutive years of drought had decimated reservoir storage, caused huge forest and range mortality in even the hardy Atemesia species. Tree ring records indicate that this was one of the more significant droughts over the past 480 years in the Colorado River Basin (Woodhouse, 2003). The drought has caused significant agricultural damages as well as to other sectors of the economy such as power and tourism. The ever present concern over global warming and its impact on western snowpacks has been mentioned in numerous studies as well as through public discourse. Historical analysis has shown that at 15 carefully chosen, long term snow courses snowpacks have been on a gradual decline although none were statistically significant. This study quantifies the impacts of these extremes on snowpack averages at these 15 sites. Are these times really different than those of historical past and are they really more extreme?