Park City’s warm, dry weather leaves snowpack in precarious situation
There was plenty of dirt visible at the lower elevations around Park City through Thursday after weeks of dry weather and warm temperatures at a time when it normally snows regularly.
The conditions are worrisome to the owner of High Country Lawn Care, a Snyderville Basin company that is in the snow-removal business in the winter.
"Obviously, it’s scary. We depend on the snow. It keeps us in business," said Randy Godfrey, the owner of High Country Lawn Care, adding, "I haven’t seen it like this for a long time."
The company employs 12 workers during the winter and business is down considerably, he said. Godfrey wonders whether there will be a drop in lawn care requests in the summer as well if the weather remains dry.
The stretch of unusual winter weather has left the Park City area with a snowpack well below the historic norms. According to the National Weather Service, a measuring station close to the Thaynes lift at Park City Mountain Resort showed a snowpack at 68 percent of normal at midweek. The snowpack was closest to its average around Christmas, when the level was 90 percent of its average, the National Weather Service said.
"All you have to do is look on the south-facing aspects and you’ll see no snow," said Brian McInerney, a National Weather Service hydrologist who closely monitors the area’s snowpack.
The numbers in other locations in Summit County are similar. A measuring station at Smith and Morehouse Reservoir, located in the Uinta Mountains, showed the snowpack at 64 percent of normal. At Trial Lake, also in the Uintas, the number was 77 percent of normal. At Chalk Creek, in North Summit, the snowpack was measured at 68 percent of normal.
The measuring stations are located at high altitudes and on north-facing slopes, which receive less sunlight in the winter, meaning the percentages are greater than they would be if the stations were situated elsewhere, McInerney said.
McInerney said snow is found consistently starting at 7,500 feet in altitude. On south-facing slopes, which receive lots of sunlight in the winter, the snow line can reach 10,000 feet, he said.
"It’s a giant high-pressure ridge," he said, explaining that the ridge deflected cold air masses and storms northward toward Alaska and then around the ridge toward the Midwest and the East Coast.
The high-pressure ridge set up in January and has not broken down, according to McInerney. Thursday was the 46th consecutive day of above average temperatures at Salt Lake City International Airport, he said.
The dusting of snow on Friday was not expected to meaningfully change the situation.
Spring runoff has not yet started even with the high temperatures, McInerney said. He said the runoff, though, could be "early and inefficient" if the conditions remain warm and dry. Some of the water in the snow could evaporate before it has a chance to become runoff, McInerney said.
Waterworks officials are closely monitoring the snowpack since melting snow supplies drinking water and water for irrigation in Park City. The City Hall water system involves three wells, two mine tunnels and a pipeline from the Rockport Reservoir. Clint McAffee, the Park City water and streets director, said he is worried that it is the fourth consecutive winter of low snowfall. The groundwater aquifers are starting to be drawn down as a result of the recent string of winters that were drier than normal, he said.
McAffee said he anticipates tighter watering restrictions than normal this summer if the winter weather remains dry and is followed by a summer with little rain. The municipal government annually restricts the days and times lawns can be watered, but the restrictions can be tightened in dry years.
"We’re not panicking just yet. I think we’ve got a couple more months of opportunity for Mother Nature to produce something," he said.
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Park City leaders in the last week spoke of the prospects that a second Winter Olympics could create funding opportunities as City Hall continues to consider what are anticipated to be high-dollar infrastructure projects.