In a matter of a few months, San Juan County has moved into severe drought conditions.
The latest United States Drought Monitor classifies almost the entire county as in “Severe Drought” with little indication that weather conditions will make any significant change.
The weather in December was consistent with previous months: dry and warm.
For the water year, which begins on October 1, Bluff has accumulated less than one percent of average precipitation.
In an average year, Bluff would have received 2.24 inches of precipitation through December 31. This water year, they have received just .02 inches.
It is a similar situation in other area communities. Blanding has received just .19 inch of precipitation since October 1, which is 5.3 percent of the average of 3.61 inches.
It is not only dryer than normal, but it is warmer than normal in San Juan County.
With a high temperature of 58 degrees on December 11, Monticello tied the record for highest temperature ever recorded for the month of December.
The average daily high temperature in December was six degrees above normal in Bluff, seven degrees above normal in Blanding and eight degrees above normal in Monticello.
Conditions turned dry this fall during the time that local farmers are planting their winter wheat crop. There was little precipitation in the soil for the seed and many farmers “dusted” their fields with seed late in the fall, hoping winter storms would provide better growing conditions.
Ranchers scramble to find fields with adequate feed for their animals. Several ranchers were able to forage their animals briefly on land placed in CRP status.
As dry as it is in the farm lands and communities, the snow pack situation in the mountains is just as dry or even worse.
On January 9, there was just .02 inches of water in the meager snowpack at the Camp Jackson Sno-tel station on the Abajo Mountains. That is the driest the site has ever measured on a January 9 since measurements were first taken in 1985.
The snowpack is just four percent of the average level on January 9 of 5.1 inches. Year-to-date precipitation at Camp Jackson is 15 percent of normal.
There was just 1.4 inches of water in the snowpack at the La Sal Mountain Sno-tel station on January 9. On only one other year – 1990 – has the snowpack been lower.
The year-to-date precipitation at the La Sal Mountain station is 25 percent of normal.
Although local residents are hopeful that future storms may turn the situation around, the conditions are of significant concern.
“There is always a chance that conditions in Southern Utah might reverse, but the likelihood is very small,” said Randy Julander, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Utah.
“Statistically, if you are less than 75 percent of normal on January 1, there is only about a 20 percent chance of getting back to average by April 1,” said Julander. “And the condition prevailing in Southern Utah isn’t even remotely close to 75 percent right now.
“Seventy-five percent in Southern Utah would be awesome given current conditions of about five to 35 percent of normal.
“Given the present La Nina conditions, the tendency is for Southern Utah to go dry.”