Sara Hipp, apartment manager of BYU-contracted housing Roman Gardens, was in her office on a rainy morning in September. She went upstairs and came back down to find her office flooding up to ankle deep in rain water.
“I felt like Noah; and my office was the world,” she said.
This fall has been rainier than most for the Western states, with extreme flooding in Idaho, Las Vegas and Southern Utah. Provo has received its fair share of rain as well, including the Sept. 8 storm that caused flooding in apartment complexes like Hipp’s.
According to the BYU Physics and Astronomy Weather Station, Provo received 2.14 inches of rain in August, which was more than an inch above average. September has been rainy as well, with last Saturday’s storm dropping more than an inch of rain on Provo in one day.
Bryan Peterson, a BYU physics professor and manager of BYU’s weather station, said these surprise showers are leftover hurricanes that travel north.
“August and September are really dependent on what’s called monsoonal rain coming up out of Arizona and Baja Mexico,” he said. “It’s dying tropical storms … (and) almost always comes in thunderstorms and downpours.”
Peterson said some meteorologists have connected this year’s rainy fall with Utah’s fall of 1982 that led to record-breaking snowfall and intense flooding the next spring.
“There was a river flooding down State Street in Salt Lake,” he said with a laugh. “They were fishing on State Street.”
However, those who take this rainy fall as a precursor to a good season on the ski slopes might be disappointed.
“It’s really hard to tie those two together,” Peterson said. “Since the monsoonal moisture is so unpredictable, it’s really hard to say, well we had all this rain so we’ll have a really hard winter.”
But Peterson said a hard winter is just what Utah needs. It has been in a drought state for two years.
Utah Lake is currently 4.5 feet below the usual level, which means it’s about 55 percent full, according to the state park’s website. Other lakes, such as Lake Powell and Yuba Lake, are suffering as well.
“I’ve been at the lake for eight seasons, and this is the lowest that I’ve seen it,” said Jason Allen, park manager of Utah Lake State Park. “… I’ve talked to park rangers up at Willard Bay and Yuba; we’re just down across the board. We had a normal water year last year, but we are not enough to recover from the past few years.”
Roy Trotter, owner of the Prop Doc in Orem, is one person who might be benefitting from this drought.
“It has probably been my busiest season in 26 years,” he said. “… I haven’t taken any time off.”
Trotter’s shop specializes in fixing boat propellers, and he said this year he has seen more broken propellers than ever. He attributed this partly to the low water in Utah’s lakes and reservoirs and partly to the fact that many of the newer boat models have the propeller directly under the boat, making it easy to hit unseen rocks that are exposed due to the low water levels.
“I’ve had numerous complaints about that,” Allen said. “I went ahead and shut down two ramps here. I’ve actually had trailers fall off the end of the cement ramp and get stuck.”
Allen said he has been monitoring the lake level daily, but even the massive fall rainstorms have hardly had an effect on the water level.
“It’s a drop in the bucket for such a large lake,” he said. “I’m assuming the reservoirs received a lot more than we did … but nothing sufficient.”
Peterson said the only way for Utah to recover from this drought will be a good, snowy winter.
“The reservoirs did not fill last year, because we didn’t have a big snowpack, and they were low from the previous year already,” he said. “They are already really low this year, and if we don’t have a good snowpack we’re going to be in trouble.”
As for the monsoonal rain, Peterson said it usually lasts until the end of September. He doesn’t foresee any more huge storms coming up, but that doesn’t mean the monsoon season is over yet.
“These kinds of things that happened over the last two months are really hard to predict, because it’s really hard to predict what a hurricane is going to do,” he said.
According to the the Weather Channel’s website, this week’s forecast predicts a chance of scattered rain showers in Provo early in the week, with sunshine and cooler temperatures as the week goes on.
Hipp’s apartment office now has a pile of sandbags waiting to be utilized during the next big storm, just in case.