More Dogs on Main Street
June 11, 2010
This is shaping up to be a very strange year as far as weather is concerned. The winter was warmer, a little grayer, and a lot drier than normal. The skiing was certainly OK, augmented with lots of machine-made snow and some well-timed natural storms. But there were few really big dumps. The storms were also very localized. There would be days when the resorts got a foot but I had bare ground in Woodland. There was also May 24, when I got 14 inches at my house, the biggest storm of the year, and a couple of miles down the canyon there was only a dusting.
Now we’ve got flooding. That’s about the last thing anybody would have predicted this year. You worry about flooding when there is a heavy snow pack. The bigger concern this year was drought. Turns out we are going to get both. Somehow that’s just not right.
May was 10 to 15 degrees cooler than normal, and instead of leveling off or starting to go down, the snow pack increased. Then we get a string of 80-degree days, with some big afternoon thundershowers, and a whole season’s worth of snow melts off in a couple of days. One of the TV weather people reported that Alta was losing snow at a rate of 4 inches per hour. You’d have to put it in a frying pan to melt it much faster. And the result was flooding all along the creeks through Salt Lake.
The same thing has happened here. Oakley is getting hit with big flows out of the Weber River. There has been some real damage and some homes destroyed. I really feel for the people who have been out there sandbagging in hopes of preventing the damage, and those who have gotten soaked despite the efforts. Oakley has a strong sense of community and will get through it better than most places. Frankly, if you were going to live some place with that kind of risk, Oakley would be a good choice. There is a lot of big equipment and neighbors who are willing to help each other. But when your house is knocked off the foundation, there’s just nothing good about it.
My house is on the Provo River. There are some low spots through the Woodland area that get flooded almost every year. Our floods are largely manmade. The Duchesne Tunnel imports water from the Duchesne River into the Provo upstream of Woodland. It makes up a big part of the flow that fills Deer Creek Reservoir.
This year, the upper drainage never really got much snow. The Trial Lake area was around 50 percent of normal most of the winter, and with the May storms finally made it up to about 70 percent of normal. When instant summer hit, the melting took off. On a cold May 25, the flow was 466 cubic feet per second. On a hot June 5, it was 2,310, nearly 5 times as much. The online data hasn’t been updated for a couple of days, but it looks like there was a spike in flow for a few hours that boosted it up to 3,000 cubic feet per second. That’s got to be a record.
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The rocks have been crashing around in the river all night. Huge trees with root balls the size of Chevy Suburbans come screaming by the house, breaking branches 6 or 8 inches in diameter like twigs. For a couple of days there was a cottonwood tree stuck just upstream of the highway bridge. It looked like it had the potential to get jammed under the bridge, making a dam in a very bad place. Then one morning it was gone. It surfed through on a surge of water and is now someplace downstream, threatening some other bridge.
So far, I haven’t had any significant damage. One headgate on an irrigation ditch washed out, and so instead of being able to control the water flow in the ditch, I’m getting what the river is sending me which is a whole lot more than I want. My brother and I tried to close it off with some boards and logs, and it ripped everything out of our hands faster than we could stick them in place. The situation is reversed in other places, with the river packing wads of sticks and other driftwood into the culverts, blocking the flow off completely.
The irony of it all is that the flows will drop off about as sharply as they came up. Before the sandbags are dried out, we will be facing the drought we knew was coming with the thin snow pack.
As former Governor Scott Matheson said, this is a hell of a way to run a desert.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.