1983 vs 2023 Spring Flooding

1983 vs 2023 Spring Flooding, Ashley Creek Flowing Underneath Highway 191, Vernal, UT, Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand, Photographer
Ashley Creek Flowing Underneath Highway 191, Vernal, UT
Click to view YouTube Video
Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

The roar you hear in the background is Ashley Creek flowing underneath Highway 191 in Vernal. Rivers and creeks all over the state have been running high with melted snow from the biggest snowpack ever recorded in Utah.

1983 was last time we had anything near this amount of snowmelt fueling our spring runoff. That year, there were multiple 100-year (and bigger) floods. The landslide in Thistle triggered Utah’s first presidential disaster declaration. For weeks, floods, landslides, and debris flows damaged homes, highways, and drainage canals. 22 of Utah’s 29 counties were affected.

This year—with a historic snowpack– it seems like we should be experiencing more 100-year floods or even 500-year floods. Even though only 40 years have gone by since 1983. It’s quite possible, because 100-year floods don’t happen just once every 100 years. They are just projected to happen every 100 years on average**

So did this year’s historic snowpack—more than in 1983–cause another round of 100-year floods? Hasn’t so far and doesn’t look like it will. There has been isolated flooding in some areas, and groundwater flooding, but we just aren’t seeing damage on the same scale that we saw 40 years ago. Why not?

For one thing, Utah communities took lots of mitigation measures in the wake of the 1983 floods. New debris basins were built, stormwater systems improved, river and watersheds were restored, and at-risk structures were flood-proofed. Communities also prepared their residents for floods with information and sandbags! But a big reason Utah didn’t suffer from 100-year or floods, is that the 2023 spring was absolutely ideal for moving water safely from the snowy, high elevations to the thirsty reservoirs and lakes below. Since peak snowpack in the beginning of April, there’s been a long gradual warming trend with no big storms. Stream flows have been consistently high for 2 months instead coming down all at once during a sudden long hot spell of 90 plus temperatures. We dodged a bullet this year thanks to mitigation, preparation and Mother Nature!

Thanks to Glen Merrill with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City and to Tom Wright, hydrological engineer at AECOM for their expert knowledge.

I’m Holly Strand and I’m Wild About Utah and Utah Public Radio!

**A 100-year flood–has a 1% chance of happening each and every year on any given stream reach. Consider what happens when you roll dice. Let’s say you roll a double six. You could get double sixes on the very next roll.  But over many, many, many rolls, you will average double sixes only once every 36 rolls. Similarly you could get a 100-year flood one year, and then the very next year you could roll another 100-year flood but there’s a 99% chance that you won’t. But averaged over a long time, like 1000s of years, a 100-year flood should happen—on average—once every 100 years. To make this concept clearer flood experts prefer to say 1% annual chance flood instead of 100-year flood.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand, Photographer
Additional Audio: Holly Strand
Voice: Holly Strand
Text: Holly Strand, Utah Division of Emergency Management
Additional Reading: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Wild About Utah pieces authored by Holly Strand

Some interesting sites for flood nerds:
Utah Flood Hazards and Floodplain Management, Utah Division of Emergency Management, https://floodhazards.utah.gov/

Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce, https://www.cbrfc.noaa.gov/lmap/lmap.php?interface=snow

NOAA ATLAS 14 Point Precipitation Frequency Estimates: UT, Office of Water Prediction (OWP), National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce, https://hdsc.nws.noaa.gov/pfds/pfds_map_cont.html?bkmrk=ut


Ashley Creek Flowing Underneath Highway 191, Vernal, UT
Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand, Photographer

Special Annual Event: Perseids Meteor Shower

In this 30-second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, as seen from Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Courtesy NASA, Bill Ingalls, Photographer
In this 30-second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, as seen from Spruce Knob, West Virginia.
Courtesy NASA, Bill Ingalls, Photographer
The Perseids meteor shower is one of the most popular events of the year for sky watchers. A meteor shower is simply an increase in meteor activity which is produced when the Earth passes through a trail of debris that is also in orbit about the Sun.

Perseids debris comes from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, the largest object known to make repeated passes near the Earth. Its nucleus is about 6 miles across. Most of its meteoroids are the size of sand grains; a few are as big as peas or marbles. When they enter Earth’s atmosphere, they are called meteors. Almost none hit the ground, but if one does, it’s called a meteorite.

The Perseid shower is detectable from July 25-Aug 20, but meteor activity rises sharply around Aug. 12. For example, on the 25th you can expect to see a meteor every hour. Maybe 5 an hour by the 1st of August, up to 15 an hour by August 10th. But then on August 12, the number will spike to 50 -80 /hour and in some years up to 200! Then the number will quickly subside until Aug 20, when you’ll be back to 1 an hour.

Perseid meteoroids are fast. They enter Earth’s atmosphere at roughly 133,000 mph– or 60 km per second. They also make a sound! Fast-moving meteoroids ionize the air in their path leaving behind a trail that can briefly reflect radio wave from TV stations, RADAR facilities or AM/FM transmitters. A “radio meteor” is the short-lived echo of a radio signal that bounces off such a trail. Scientists at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL have established a radio meteor monitoring system. Here’s what a typical echo sounds like against some background static:

https://www.spaceweather.com/meteors/audio/geminidecho.wav (Editors note: Content AWOL as of 8/2021
Original article quoting sound found at https://www.spaceweather.com/glossary/nasameteorradar.html)
See NASA Radio Meteors: https://science.nasa.gov/search?search_api_views_text=radio+meteors (accessed August, 2021)

Hmmm… Kind of reminds me of a whale song.

This year, August 12th features a gibbous moon which means lunar glare will wipe out the path of the smaller meteroids . You’ll want to find a spot in the moonshade which will minimize glare. Or you can watch during predawn moonless hours on August 12th which will be the peak of this year’s show. No worries for those of us who can’t stay awake past midnight though. There will still be so-called shooting stars even while the moon is out—just less than when the moon has set. Furthermore, Jupiter is almost opposite to the sun with the planet coming physically closest to the Earth in its orbit . That means good viewing as Jupiter will appear very large. Look for it together with the moon in the constellation Sagittarius in the southeast sky. Depending upon your viewing equipment, you may be able to see some of Jupiter’s moons as well as the Great Red Spot, which is a gigantic hurricane-like storm twice the size of Earth on Jupiter’s surface.

For a sociable viewing experience, sky watchers in Northern Utah are invited to the Stokes Nature Center/American West Heritage Center Star Party August 12th from 9-1. We’ll have powerful telescopes, experienced interpreters, and all sorts of fun activities for adults and families. For more information see www.logannature.org or www.awhc.org


Photo: Courtesy NASA, Bill Ingalls, Photographer, https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/behold-the-perseid-meteor-shower
Text: Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Additional Reading

Harbaugh, Jennifer, How many Perseids will I see in 2021?, NASA, August 9, 2021 https://blogs.nasa.gov/Watch_the_Skies/tag/perseids-meteor-shower/

McClure, Bruce, Perseid Meteor Shower 2021 Reaches Its Peak, EarthSky, August 10, 2021, https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-perseid-meteor-shower/

Pop! Ping! Perseids! Science@NASA (accessed July 31, 2008)

Philipps, Tony. 2008. The 2008 Perseid Meteor Shower Science@NASA (accessed July 31, 2008)

Radio Meteor Listening.
https://www.spaceweather.com/glossary/forwardscatter.html (accessed July 31, 2008)

Ridpath, Ian. Oxford Dictionary of Astronomy. 1997.
NY: Oxford University Press

Harbaugh, Jennifer, How many Perseids will I see in 2021?, NASA, August 9, 2021 https://blogs.nasa.gov/Watch_the_Skies/tag/perseids-meteor-shower/

McClure, Bruce, Perseid Meteor Shower 2021 Reaches Its Peak, EarthSky, August 10, 2021, https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/everything-you-need-to-know-perseid-meteor-shower/

American Invasion

Eurasian Collared Dove, Courtesy invasivespecies.org, Joy Viola, Northwestern University, Photographer
Eurasian Collared Dove
Streptopelia decaocto
Courtesy & © invasivespecies.org/bugwood.org
Joy Viola, Northwestern University, Photographer

Colorado Potato Bug, Courtesy insectimages.org/bugwood.org, USDA ARS, PhotographerColorado Potato Beetle Adult
Leptinotarsa decemlineata
Courtesy IPMimages.org/bugwood.org
USDA ARS, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

More and more you are likely to hear this sound in Utah yards, parks and fields. [Eurasian Collared Dove, Courtesy Ryan O’Donnell, www.xeno-canto.org/98068] That’s the call of the Eurasian collared dove. Originally from Asia, this dove has been expanding its territory around the world at an incredible rate. The first sighting in Utah was in Orem in 1997. And now the doves are everywhere. So far, it doesn’t look like our native mourning dove is affected. But such rapid population explosions rarely occur without some sort of undesirable ecological consequence.

In America, the Eurasian collared dove is an invasive species. But not all non-native species are invasive. “Invasive” only applies when species spread far beyond the area where they are first introduced. Luckily, not all invasive species turn out to be serious pests. Ecologist Mark Williamson suggested the tens rule. About 10% of introduced species establish lasting populations and 10% of those go on to become problems.

There’s a long list of Eurasian invasives in Utah. Among them is the highly flammable cheat grass that comes from southwestern Asia. Those massive clouds of starlings? They come from Europe. Tamarisk from Eurasian deserts lines the Colorado River and tributaries. The common carp is an unwelcome Eurasian colonist of our lakes and large rivers. And the American west’s iconic tumbleweed is an invader from the Russian steppe.

Why so many invaders from Eurasia? Well for the last 500 years, there has been a net outflow of Eurasians—especially Europeans—to other parts of the world. And this human population carried its biological baggage along with it—in the form of animals, plants and diseases. Some ecologists believe that the physical geography and human history of Eurasia has conditioned its species in such a way that they will consistently outcompete the species of other continents. But that’s debatable. For in the last decades the New World has started to lob some pretty competitive species over to Eurasia.

For example, the American mink was brought to the Eurasian continent in the 1920s for use on fur farms. But–because of deliberate releases and accidental escapes–the mink is now common in the European wild. And it’s a pest. The American mink is taking the place of the European mink which is now threatened with extinction. Furthermore, the American mink is gobbling up populations of many ground-nesting birds.

Unless you are involved in agriculture, you might not have heard of the Colorado potato beetle. But potato growers around the globe know this striped orange and brown beetle from the American southwest very well. It has a voracious appetite for potato leaves and quickly develops resistance to any chemicals used against it.

And a final example: the American bullfrog is considered one of the world’s most damaging invasives. The bullfrog does amazingly well in a variety of habitats –even artificial ones like millponds, irrigation ditches and reservoirs. Its incredible adaptability helps it spread and outcompete native frogs. Moreover, it has been transmitting a deadly fungus to previously unaffected populations of frogs, toads and salamanders.

Thanks to Lyle Bingham for information on the Eurasian collared dove. And to Ryan ODonnell for his audio recording from xeno-canto.org. For more information on the Eurasian collared dove and other invasive species go to www.wildaboututah.org.

For Wild About Utah, and the Quinney College of Natural Resouces, I’m Holly Strand.


Theme: Courtesy & Copyright Don Anderson Leaping Lulu
1. Photographer Joy Viola, Northwestern University, Bugwood.org https://www.invasive.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=5413582
2. USDA ARS Photo Unit, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood. https://www.insectimages.org/browse/detail.cfm?imgnum=1321015

Audio of Eurasian collared dove:
Ryan P. O’Donnell, XC98068. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/98068.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5

Text & Voice: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading:

Bingham, Lyle. 2009. The New Dove in the Neighborhood. Wild About Utah Program https://wildaboututah.org/the-new-dove-in-the-neighborhood/ October 8, 2009.

di Castri F. 1989. History of biological invasions with special emphasis on the Old World. In: Drake JA, Mooney HA, di CastriF, Groves RH, Kruger FJ, Rejma´nek M, Williamson M, eds. Biological invasions: a global perspective. Chichester, UK: John Wiley and Sons.

European Environment Agency, 2012. The impacts of invasive alien species in Europe EEA Technical report No. 16/2012. EEA, Copenhagen.

National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC): Gateway to invasive species information; covering Federal, State, local, and international sources.

Simberloff, Daniel. 2013. Invasive Species: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press

Wind and Sagebrush

Wind and Sagebrush

Wind and Sagebrush: Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. Vaseyana) in flower - Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz
Mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. Vaseyana) in flower – Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz

Wind and Sagebrush:Three-tip sage (Artemisia tripartite) with visible yellow flowers. - Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila ShultzThree-tip sage (Artemisia tripartite) with visible yellow flowers. – Photo Courtesy and Copyright Dr. Leila Shultz

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

By late summer, most of Utah’s flowering plants have fizzled out for the year—those that remain are looking pretty spent. But not true for the sagebrush. It’s show time for over 20 types of sagebrush of the Intermountain West.

Like grasses and conifers, sagebrush plants are pollinated by the wind. They have no need for the specialized traits designed to attract live pollinators. Instead, they have evolved other strategies to survive and multiply.

For instance, wind-pollinated plants don’t need showy, colorful petals to attract insects or birds. The wind is going to do its job anyway regardless of visual cues. Thus sagebrush flowers are very small and nondescript. In fact, when passing by flowering sagebrush you might not even notice that it’s in bloom. Look for long spikes with clusters of tiny flower heads. The pale yellow flowers are concealed by petal-like bracts, which are the very same color as the rest of the plant.

While the flowers of sagebrush lack in beauty, they make up in quantity. A single flowering stem of the most common sagebrush—known simply as big sagebrush–can hold hundreds of flower heads that produce a massive amount of pollen. Most wind-blown pollen grains won’t end up anywhere near the female part of another plant. So to make up for this risky method of fertilization, individual plants must produce greater volumes of pollen. In contrast, plants with live pollinators get door to door service during fertilization. Far less pollen is needed to get the same job done.

Scent is another way for plants to attract live pollinators. Species pollinated by bees and flies have sweet scents, whereas those pollinated by beetles have strong musty, spicy, or fruity odors. However, the iconic western scent of the sagebrush has absolutely nothing to do with pollination. Instead, the pungent aroma of the sagebrush is a by-product of certain chemicals produced in the leaves. These chemicals evolved to repel animals and to reduce the odds of being eaten or grazed.

The chemicals—bitter terpenes, camphors and other secondary compounds–—peak in early spring. But as the late-summer flowering period approaches, the chemicals start to break down. By winter, browsers like deer and elk can nibble on the protein-rich seed heads without getting a nasty aftertaste.

Thanks to botanist Leila Shultz for sharing her knowledge of sagebrush. For a link to the online version of Leila’s book Pocket Guide to Sagebrush, go to www.wildaboututah.org
If you’d like a hard copy of this Pocket Guide, send an email to wildaboututah@gmail.com We have 5 copies to give away to listeners from across the state.

For Wild About Utah and the Quinney College of Natural Resources, I’m Holly Strand.

NOTE: The copies are gone. You can view the book as a .pdf here or check here for the next printing from https://www.sagestep.org/pubs/brushguide.html.


Photo Courtesy & Copyright 2007 Dr. Leila Shultz
Text: Holly Strand, Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University

Additional Reading:

Dudareva, Natalia. 2005. Why do flowers have scents? Scientific American April 18. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-flowers-have-scent/

Shultz, Leila. 2012. Pocket Guide to Sagebrush. PRBO Conservation Science. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/sagestep_reports/20/
As pdf: https://rdjzr2agvvkijm6n3b66365n-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/sagebrush_pock_guide_reduced.pdf

Shultz, L. M. 2006. The Genus Artemisia (Asteraceae: Anthemideae). In The Flora of North America north of Mexico, vol. 19: Asterales, pp. 503–534. Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. Oxford University Press. New York and Oxford.

USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database, National Plant Data Team, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS): https://www.plants.usda.gov

VanBuren, R., J. C. Cooper, L. M. Shultz and K. T. Harper. 2011. Woody Plants of Utah. Utah State University Press & Univ. Colorado. 513 pp. https://upcolorado.com/utah-state-university-press/item/2323-woody-plants-of-utah