Late Winter Leads to Natural Disaster Preparations in Utah

It’s hard to believe we are still being dumped on with snow in Utah. And not just a little bit of snow—Snowbird has received nearly two feet of snow in the past few days, with more on the way! Utah is notorious for excellent spring skiing conditions, but this isn’t your typical May snowpack. While the late season snow is welcomed by many skiing enthusiasts, it also brings numerous environmental dangers: historic flooding, avalanches and mudslides.

Prepping Utahans for a Repeat of 1983 Flooding

For those of you not familiar with Utah’s history, here’s a little background. Utah ski resorts broke records during the 1981-82 and 1982-83 ski seasons. With record level of precipitation, comes record level of water runoff when temperatures rise in early summer. Thus Memorial Day Weekend of ’83: temperatures rose to the 90s, canyon snowdrifts melted at an astonishing rate, and the results were actual rivers running through various streets in downtown Salt Lake City. I’ve even heard stories of people kayaking down State Street during this chaotic time!

Flooding of State Street in 1983

Flooding of State Street in Downtown SLC May 1983

There has been much foreboding from media outlets, warning similar runoff dangers are in store for Salt Lake City this summer. Whenever summer decides to visit…

“At this point, everybody is just sitting back chewing fingernails and waiting because the longer it stays cold and wet, the worse it’s going to get,” said Randy Julander, a supervisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.— ABC News story
“You should have 90 days of the water from snowpack flowing normally out of the mountains,” said LeRoy Hooten Jr., the public works director for Salt Lake City in 1983 who is now retired and still lives here. “But when you go quickly from winter to almost summer weather, it goes into one large flush.” — Salt Lake Tribune Story

Mudslides are another negative effect of our mountain snowpack melting. Mudslides have already hit Wyoming, closing the interstate leading to Utah.

Avalanche Dangers

Due to a lack of funding, the Utah Avalanche Center has concluded their daily, not to mention very thorough and informative, avalanche forecasting. The UAC was forced to close its doors on April 24, 2011 due to funding. This unfortunately does not mean that avalanche dangers in the backcountry have ended. Now more than ever, backcountry skiing enthusiasts need to use their own knowledge and preparation to ensure their own safety while touring. The changes in temperate and continuing late season snow add to avalanche dangers. Thankfully Snowbird Ski Resort remains open and continues to do avalanche control work as necessary.

So What Can We Do?

Well, there isn’t an easy answer to this question. Many Salt Lake homeowners and business owners have begun flood preparations by purchasing a multitude of sandbags and other tools to help minimize flood damage. Stay informed. Listen to flood and mudslide advisories. Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst. We can rest easy knowing that Governor Herbert and our state legislature are prepared for the worst. They have funding put away to deal with the possibly great expenditures of repairing flood damages.

If you’re a skier or snowboarder, get out to Snowbird or the backcountry and enjoy our endless winter! If you’re a rafting enthusiast, this may be putting a damper on your spring activity, but our rivers should be high and fast this summer.

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