Spring precipitation in St. George breaks 61-year-old record

Used for illustrative purposes only, this photo shows a lightning storm in St. George, Utah, July 10, 2018 | Photo by and courtesy of Michael Klunker, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — St. George had record-breaking levels of precipitation this spring, causing concern for a hot summer and a dangerous fire season.

The area received 6.46 inches of precipitation from March to May, which is well above the average of 1.94 inches for that time of year, Jon Meyer, a climatologist for the Utah Climate Center, said.

It broke the record set in 1958 when the area received 5.70 inches of rainfall. Last year, St. George saw just 1.86 inches of precipitation.

While all three months saw rainfall that was well above average, May’s precipitation stood out the most, Meyer said. May alone saw 2.05 inches of rainfall, which is over 10 times the average rainfall for the usually drier month.

The higher precipitation this year is cause for concern since a wetter year means more vegetation, increasing the risk of wildfires, Adam Heyder, Washington County fire warden said.

A chart showing locations in Utah that had record-breaking rainfall this spring | Photo from the National Weather Service, Salt Lake City’s Twitter, St. George News

“Any time we get an unusual amount of moisture, especially through the winter time into the spring, we tend to get a lot of grass growth, fire fuels. … So it looks like we’ll probably have a lot of fires down in the lower elevations in the desert.”

Read more: Fire official warns Red Cliffs Desert Reserve committee of potentially heavy fire season

In addition to greater fire risk, the Climate Prediction Center anticipates that Southern Utah will have slightly warmer than normal temperatures over the summer, Meyer said. They’re also predicting wetter conditions than usual.

These things combined may make for an active monsoon season, though it may arrive later than usual because a wet spring sometimes delays its arrival.

“It takes a bit longer to warm up the land with all that soil moisture to evaporate, but there are many other ingredients at play,” Meyer said. “My bet is that once the summer switch flips, it will do so quickly and we’ll have three months of weather forecasts entailing really hot days and periodic thunderstorm chances.”

The reason this year saw more precipitation than usual has to do with storm tracks, or courses that storm systems follow as they move across the land, that stagnated overhead and brought on frequent weather disturbances and more low-pressure storm systems.

Those storm patterns are different from those of last year, when most storms veered northeast and left most of the state, especially southeast Utah, in some of the driest conditions in 125 years. Unlike the rest of the state, however, St. George almost reached its average levels of rainfall.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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