A warm, wet winter in Utah but don’t blame El Niño

February 22, 2024

For Jackie May, this winter’s rain in the Salt Lake Valley has led to a lot of second-guessing when it comes to taking the ski bus to the mountains.


She typically plans her work schedule around making time for snowboarding.

^ Michael Wasserman. ^^ Banner photo above: Fog drapes the Wasatch Mountains near Cottonwood Heights as valley rain and mountain snow have been the standard storm pattern for much of Utah this winter, Feb. 20, 2024. Credit: Sean Higgins/KUER.

“Being down here, I'm like, ‘what am I doing? Should I go back to work?’” she said while waiting for the Utah Transit Authority ski bus at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. And then when I go up in the mountains, I'm like, OK, no, [winter] is still happening. This is how I want to spend my time.”

Although this winter has not had the same record-setting snowfall as last winter, not everyone is disappointed to see no snowbanks in the valley. I don't like to shovel,” said fellow bus rider Dianne Lanoy. “I do have a good car in the snow, but I don't like to drive in the snow. So, keep [the snow] up in the mountains.”

Even with more rain than snow at the lower elevations and a slow start to the winter, snowpack levels for this time of year are above average statewide. It’s also an El Niño year. That’s when warmer, wetter weather from the Pacific Ocean moves in and usually creates more precipitation.

But don’t go blaming El Niño for this winter’s wacky weather just yet. “El Niño or La Niña really means nothing for snow and precipitation in northern Utah,” says University of Utah atmospheric sciences Ph.D. student Michael Wasserstein. “Prior literature has shown that El Niño can produce lots of precipitation in Utah, or it can produce little precipitation in Utah … I don't think we can draw any conclusions about this winter's weather based on El Niño patterns.”

Wasserstein is the lead author of a new study that dives into why the Wasatch Mountains get so much snow. As it turns out, it’s all about a diversity of storm types and weather patterns.

Read the full story by Sean Higgins at KUER 90.1.