For residents of the vast deserts of the Great Basin, praying that rain and snow will stop is akin to heresy.
Desert dwellers spend their lives praying for every drop they get. Yet as the trillions of gallons of water captured in this winter’s record breaking snow sits above the Wasatch Front waiting to roar out of the mountains, that is exactly what is happening. The prayers wafting heavenward this weekend are asking for a halt…please!
As I write on May 8, the weather forecast for Mother’s day and Monday the 9th is for another huge storm to stall over the Wasatch, and drop from 1 to 3 additional inches of water in rain in the valleys and snow in the high country.
The cold spring has kept the snow in the mountains and so the “perfect storm” will become the perfect flood. Tens of thousands of sand bags that have been filled and placed along rivers and streams. Mother Nature is not impressed with sand bags.
Consider: Echo Reservoir has a capacity of 74,000 acre feet of water. At least 340,000 acre feet will flow into Echo in the next few weeks. Will they be able to let it out fast enough? This scenario is similar for many of the reservoirs and lakes on the Wasatch Front. Bear Lake may fill for the first time in decades this year. There is more snow in the high elevations of Utah Mountains (as I write) than there has ever been on this date since records have been kept.
And the irony of it all: We in San Juan started out with record snow in December and January and then the rain Gods shut us down.
While the rest of the state has been blasted all winter, we got virtually nothing from Februaty thru April. There has been virtually no runoff this spring in San Juan and our reservoirs are basically where they were last fall. Yet southwestern Utah has had record snow. Go figure.
The last time this happened in l983, it was much the same scenario. Lots of snow and a cold April so that it all came down in three or four weeks, instead of six or eight. It was a sight to behold. But the snow pack is much greater this year than it was in l983. Nobody is quite sure what is going to happen.
In l983, I talked Joyce Martin and Ingrid Adams into giving me a “press pass” from the San Juan Record right after Billy’s Mountain slid down and blocked the Spanish Fork River, which then flooded and destroyed the town of Thistle.
With that press pass, I could go anywhere. I spent an entire day hiking around on that slide watching an army of heavy equipment try to manage the disaster. It reminded me of fleas on an elephant’s back. Utah got disaster designation from the Federal Government that spring for the first time in history.
From Billy’s Mountain I drove to Fourth East in Centerville, where I stayed with my mother-in-law. That night, a few blocks south of her home, a mudslide came down a street and smashed into a large apartment complex, breaking basement windows and doors and filling basement units almost to the ceilings with black goo.
About the same time in Farmington, a huge mudslide came out of Farmington Canyon and buried an entire subdivision. In places the mud was ten feet above the rooftops. I, along with many others, helped people dig holes in the mud about where their houses had been. When we found a roof, a chain saw cut a hole in the roof so the owner could get in to save priceless possessions. It broke most of their hearts when a flashlight allowed them a look inside.
On Saturday of that week, busses loaded with people from Rexburg, ID and Rick’s College arrived.
They had signs on the buses that said, “It’s payback time!” (Busloads of people in Northern Utah had gone to help in the Rexburg area when the Teton Dam broke.)
There were a lot of tears as those Idaho folks got off the busses with their shovels and wheelbarrows and started hugging people they had never seen, but who they knew really needed a hug and a helping hand.
But there is always good that comes with the bad. Water authorities estimate that Lake Powell will rise 25 feet in the next couple of months. River runners are joyful. The benefits of all that water in the reservoirs and lakes of the West will bless us for years to come.
I wish a few smidges of all that “pain” lurking in the mountains of Northern Utah would have come our way this winter. On the other hand, it is nice not to have to spend spring worrying and filling sand bags.
Beware what you wish for. I just pray the fates will conspire to avoid major disasters from southern Idaho to Cedar City in the coming weeks.