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

Atmospheric Rivers

Atmospheric Rivers: The Great Salt Lake, Courtesy Pixabay, David Mark, Contributor
The Great Salt Lake
Courtesy Pixabay, David Mark, Contributor
I love rivers, especially atmospheric rivers, thanks Hawaii! Poor California. Will it ever end! As atmospheric rivers continue to destroy California, our mountains get the leftovers, which I’ve enjoyed immensely as an avid Nordic skier.

Having attended the USU Spring Runoff Conference, and the Northern Utah Water conference last week, driving streets which have become snow tunnels, an epic year of snowfall is all too apparent, possibly eclipsing the ‘011 epic year.

The Great Salt Lake welcomes every drop, while our cities brace for potential floods, a repeat of ’83 when Salt Lake City’s State Street became a favorite kayak route and trout fishery! Soil moisture is being replenished which is far more favorable to aquafer recharge and agriculture. Some reservoirs are even releasing water to prevent catastrophic overflow. We find ourselves filling sandbags anticipating the worst.

Atmospheric rivers, “giant conveyor belts of water in the sky”, cause the moisture-rich “Pineapple Express” storm systems that come from the Pacific Ocean, especially Hawaii, several times annually and are more common in the winter. From October 2018 to spring 2019, there were 47 atmospheric rivers, 12 of which were rated strong or extreme, in Washington, Oregon and California. In some parts of the world, changes in atmospheric humidity and heat caused by climate change are expected to increase the intensity and frequency of extreme weather and flood events caused by atmospheric rivers. This is expected to be especially prominent in the Western United States and Canada.

Atmospheric rivers have a central role in the global water cycle. On any given day, atmospheric rivers account for over 90% of the north-south water vapor transport. They are a major factor in extreme precipitation events that cause severe flooding in many mid-latitude, westerly coastal regions of the world. Equally, the absence of atmospheric rivers has been linked to the occurrence of droughts in several parts of the world.

Our Great Salt Lake has risen about 1 1/2 feet since it’s 2022 historic low. The LDS church is donating 20 thousand acre feet, about 0.3 % of what’s needed. They are hoping others will follow suite. Another 7 million acre feet of water is needed to create the once thriving salt lake ecosystem according to The Great Salt Lake Strike Team, a combination of two Utah research universities and three Utah agencies. They suggest water donations are one of the more cost-effective and efficient solutions for getting water back into the lake. Donations could help reduce this significant deficit, since human consumption accounts for about two-thirds of the lake’s decline.

Here in Cache Valley, our high school students will be competing with each other in “Saving the Great Salt Lake” to see which school can most effectively engage their schools and communities in reducing water consumption. Cash prizes will be awarded to all participating schools, along with a tree to plant on their school grounds or another public space. Contact jackisblue49@yahoo.com for further information.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon, and you guessed it-I’m wild about Utah and it’s Great Salty Lake!

Ponderosa Pine Pictures: Courtesy Pixabay, David Mark, Contributor https://www.pixabay.com/
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://npr.org/ and Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Greene, Jack, The Great Salt Lake, Wild About Utah, April 11, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/great-salt-lake/

Greene, Jack. 2020. I Love Snow. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/i-love-snow/

Larese-Casanova, Mark. 2014. Utah’s Rich Skiing History. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-rich-skiing-history/

Liberatore, Andrea. 2011. Snowflakes. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/snowflakes/

Strand, Holly. 2009. A Utah Skier’s Snow Lexicon. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/a-utah-skiers-snow-lexicon/

Winter Wonders of Utah

Juan Luis on Cross-Country Skis with Rustic Poles, Courtesy & © Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Juan Luis on Cross-Country Skis with Rustic Poles
Courtesy & © Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

Charri's Snowman with Carrot Nose and Oreo Eyes, Courtesy & © Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer Charri’s Snowman with Carrot Nose and Oreo Eyes
Courtesy & © Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

My name is Joey Kozlowski and I live in frosty Logan, UT. For me, most winter days are relatively mundane. The waking hours, which lay only between rising from bed in winter darkness and returning from work in the same darkness, could be described as routine, rhythmic, and rehearsed. During this time of year, it is easy for me to forget the many phenomena around me that make this place I live so unbelievably special. However, certain spontaneous occasions precipitate pause, and make me reflect and appreciate this beautiful and wild place I call home. Recently, I experienced just one of those occasions.

A few weekends ago, my wife’s family came to visit. Her sister (Charri) and sister’s friend (Juan Luis) call the central city of Celaya, Mexico, home. It was Charri’s second time to Utah, and Juan Luis’ first time to Utah, and in fact, it would be his first time ever experiencing snow. The thrill and charm of the natural beauty around them was apparent as they first got out of the car in our driveway. The piles of snow along the sidewalk and the frozen white yard seemed like novel wonders to them both. One of the first things Juan Luis said, that brought me a childish smile was “I’ve always wanted to try shoveling snow,” which I thought to myself go right ahead, here’s the shovel!

Our first outing was a cross country ski/snowshoe trip up Green Canyon. Charri used my MSR snowshoes and Juan Luis fit into my old Fischer XC skis, which no longer had real poles but two wooden sticks to be used as supporting tools. With two black floppy ears bouncing around our legs, the three of us headed off up the trail. It was hard to get 50 feet without them stopping and just taking in the surrounding snow-covered cliffs, picking up fluffy white powder from the side of the trail, or even, in the case of Juan Luis, trying to capture a slow mo video of himself jumping from the trail into the deeper snow. To them, the beauty was so apparent.

The next day, I returned from Edith Bowen Laboratory School where I work, to my home on what is locally known as “The Island,” only to be surprised by a large and perfectly formed snowman in my yard, fully formed with a carrot nose and Oreo eyes. It turns out that Charri, taken back to the excited youthfulness of a child, had spent hours that day just playing outside in the snow and building the snow creature, of which, would quickly lose its eyes and nose to a happy and hungry black lab once we went back inside.

That night, we all received another gift from the great outdoors, at least 12 inches of fresh snow. Juan Luis and I got up early and started shoveling. I’d never seen such an enthusiastic shoveler! It was as if each shovel scoop was filled with ice cream, not snow! He didn’t even seem annoyed when his shovel got snagged on the pesky concrete cracks that seem the bane of my existence! Then, for the climax of their trip, we decided to go to our local ski resort, Beaver Mountain. It was the day any skier dreams of, lots of fresh powder! The awe and excitement in their eyes was present from the moment we started driving up the canyon until the moment their heads started gently nodding off on the tired ride back home. I can’t describe all the beautiful moments of the ski trip, but I can say they truly appreciated each moment for what it was, wild and beautiful, as they struggled to board the magic carpet, laughed as they fell over and over and over again, and nearly burst at the seams with joy when they were finally able to go up the Little Beaver lift and get all the way down on a green trail. In the end, to say these guests appreciated the beauty and excitement of everything a Utah winter has to offer would be an understatement.

So it was, on this occasion with my international family come to visit, that I was reminded of the natural beauty and wonder in all the little things that surround me each day, and that I too often take for granted. I am Joey Kozlowski, and I am Wild about the Winter Wonders of Utah.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller, https://upr.org/
Text:     Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah: https://wildaboututah.org/author/joseph-kowlowski/

Greene, Jack. 2020. I Love Snow. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/i-love-snow/

Larese-Casanova, Mark. 2014. Utah’s Rich Skiing History. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-rich-skiing-history/

Liberatore, Andrea. 2011. Snowflakes. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/snowflakes/

Strand, Holly. 2009. A Utah Skier’s Snow Lexicon. Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/a-utah-skiers-snow-lexicon/

Rumba in the Primavera Sun

Rumba in the Primavera Sun: Crocus in Spring, Courtesy Pixabay, Alicja from Poland, PhotographerSpring dreams have already started to thaw within my winter mind. Though I know it is still time until the snow turns to mud, and longer until the mud settles to soil, I can’t help but look forward to my time in the garden, tilling earth, planting seeds, and lazing in the fragrant primavera sun. Ooooo yeah. Sun. Spring. Celia Cruz Cuban rumba, big dumb straw hats, and onyx rich loamy soil. Is there anything better?

When I’m in one season, I generally try not to think about whether I should be thinking about the next, though it’s hard not to think about what you should or should not think about, especially when such thoughts are bound by fond memories and anticipation as sweet as a perfect mango. There is a certain unripe lime of guilt I hold, that I should lean into every season with full and open heart and that I’m acting unappreciative to the winter season by dreaming ahead. I think this thinking is perhaps a remnant of an older, younger me, one who strove to be in every moment in every moment, and, ironically, often fit the puzzle pieces according to order rather than taking that which caught my eye in that moment. I think with years I’ve learned that there is no harm in a dream of piña colada spring days during rye whisky winter, especially when that dream comes with at least a bit of action. I’d be one thing to wish for planting season and not ravenously browse my Johnny’s catalog, check on my seed stores from last year’s harvest, and make sure there’s enough coconut milk. It’s another thing that I do.

Regardless, as I dream of spring and the chlorophyll which shall abound like a shoot from that onion you forgot about in the back of the pantry, I find eager joy in the challenges I am to face as much as the possibilities in their being overcome. This year’s drip irrigation can be more efficient. This year’s compost amendments can be richer. This year’s tomato pruning can tame my nightshade jungle. This year’s harvest can be tastier. And this year I’ll finally build that tiki bar. I look forward to taking the lessons learned through past mistakes. Whether those learnings came by exposures of hubris, faith, incompetence, or all three shaken together with rocks, it is important, at least to me, that joyous dreams of labor are sought equally with joyous dreams of abundance. Abundance without labor may be Eden, but Eden after all wasn’t fit for humankind. I’d rather be in my natural state than contending with high stakes iterative bureaucracy.

So, I return to my winter landscape before me, for I cannot stay in this spring space forever, mixing my mind’s sagebrush mojito with flavors both near and far. Outside, snow continues to fall; the sun continues to wake; greenery continues to wait. And now the dream of the future is a memory of fond past, having met at that synaptic crossroads where remembrance and hope meet to garden. I both recall and divine the entrancing rich black soil, the snap of fresh muddled lemon mint, and the echo of rumba in the primavera sun.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, Alicja Polski (from Poland), Photographer https://pixabay.com/photos/crocus-early-spring-spring-flowers-3175455/
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections
Includes: “Madre Rumba” by Celia Cruz/Humberto Juama.
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://www.logannature.org
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/