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Just as western Utah appeared to be escaping a stubborn drought, two months of exceptionally hot, dry weather have new pockets of drought developing in the state.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, about 4 percent of Utah — mostly an area of the Uinta Mountains, in addition to a small corner of southeastern Utah — is in a Category 1 moderate drought as of last week, after about a month of being considered drought-free.

While precipitation in southern Utah has remained near or even above normal through the summer months, northern Utah has dried up and endured record-breaking heat. And the monsoon, which typically provides Utah some late-summer relief, is missing in action.

"The last four years, we got a really good monsoon in July and August," said Randy Julander, supervisor of the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Utah Snow Survey. "This year it's just not setting up."

Certain areas were exceptionally dry last month, Julander said. Precipitation in the Provo and Jordan River Basin came in at just 18 percent of average last month. The Weber and Bear River basins were even drier, at 4 and 7 percent of average, respectively.

The Utah and Jordan River Basin remains the driest area in the state, having accumulated 83 percent of the precipitation it is expected to receive in an average water year, according to the monthly Utah Climate and Water Report from the NRCS.

The same areas that came up short on precipitation also experienced periods of extreme high temperatures.

Brian McInerney, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said last month was the fourth-warmest July on record in Utah. Before that, June topped the charts to become the hottest.

These conditions proved taxing for local reservoirs, particularly smaller reservoirs that provide irrigation water for farmers in rural areas such as Enterprise, Sanpete and Gunnison, Julander said.

"This is really the concern," he said. "If it stays really hot and really dry, reservoirs will be depleted substantially over the next four to six months."

The long-term forecast from the National Weather Service calls for above-average temperatures across Utah through October. The forecast for precipitation is less certain, with some chance of above-average precipitation in the southeast corner of the state this month.

These conditions can be exacerbated when people figure they should use as much water as possible while they still can, Julander said. If farmers believe running out of irrigation water is inevitable, some may pour extra water onto their crops in an effort to maximize their harvest now, rather than conserve and try to stave off the water shortage.

"If everybody had that same mentality," he said, "we would be in a world of hurt."

Ideally, Julander said, Utah's reservoirs would still have some storage left over at the end of the season to break the current cycle, where drought one summer has led to increasingly severe water shortages in the next.

Right now, he said, the best chances for such a turnaround lie with the monsoon, which has produced some activity in Arizona, but hasn't made its way north so far this season.

"Looking forward, we're hoping August isn't a repeat of July," he said. "If that's the case, we'll see reservoir storage really, really drop. … A little bit of rain would go a long way."

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