Kika Chelaru holds Bowie Walker as she tests the water in the Liberty Park wading pool during a heat wave in Salt Lake City on June 14, 2021. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Environmental Information reports that 2021 was the third hottest on record in Utah. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY – 2021 has been a year full of extremes – not just in Utah, but for the weather and climate across the country.

The heat waves and dry conditions of the summer and the first half of the year eventually gave way to sporadic cooling and even full-scale storms. After data compilation, 2021 was tied with last two years as Utah’s third hottest on record. The year also saw slightly above average precipitation.

Meanwhile, large-scale wildfires, extensive drought, devastating storms and bizarre cold spells dominated the year. The impacts of these resulted in 20 “billion dollar weather and climate disasters” in 2021, which also claimed more than 600 lives, according to a report released Monday by the Center for Environmental Information of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Warm conditions continued into 2021

Utah ended 2021 with an average temperature of 50.7 degrees, matching 2015 and 2017 as the third warmest on record since 1895, according to data from the center released on Monday. The record remains 51.3 degrees, set in 1934, while the 50.9 degrees of 2012 remains in second place.

Utah has averaged above the 20th century average every year since 1993.

Utah’s average maximum temperature was 63.7 degrees, which is the fifth hottest in this category. Its average minimum temperature of 37.8 degrees corresponded to 1934 as the second warmest in state history.

This map shows the average temperatures for the contiguous United States throughout 2021. One on the scale represented the coolest on record, while 127 represents the warmest.  Utah ended up matching its third highest average on record in 2021.
This map shows the average temperatures for the contiguous United States throughout 2021. One on the scale represented the coolest on record, while 127 represents the warmest. Utah ended up matching its third highest average on record in 2021 (Photo: Center for Environmental Information)

Utah’s summer months helped produce some high numbers. After a rather mild start to the year, the summer meteorological months of June, July and August were extremely hot. Together, it was the hottest summer on record in Utah in terms of average, high and low temperatures.

July 10, in a heatwave, the National Weather Service recorded a temperature of 117 degrees in St. George, corresponding to the hottest temperature ever recorded by the state, initially set in 1985.

Salt Lake City also tied its all-time high in 2021 when it hit 107 degrees on June 15 in yet another heat wave.

The trend of warm conditions continued through the fall in spurts. September and November each finished among the 10 hottest on record, while December fell in the top 25 hottest. October was cooler than average.

At the county level, 2021 was the hottest on record for Iron County. It was well above average elsewhere in the state.

Nationally, 2021 was the fourth warmest on record in the contiguous United States at 54.5 degrees. The record remains at 55.3 degrees set in 2012 – the six hottest average temperatures on record have all been recorded in the past decade.

No contiguous state broke records for average temperature in 2021. With the exception of most of the Southeastern United States which was above average, almost all states ended up with an average temperature. considered well above average.

Extreme precipitation battle ends an average year

Meanwhile, Utah followed its driest year on record in 2021 with a somewhat surprising average in 2021. Utah collected an average of 13.6 inches of rain throughout the year, about 0 .04 inches above the 20th century average, according to data from the Center for Environmental Information.

That falls almost directly into the middle of the pack in terms of precipitation recorded since 1895.

This map shows the total precipitation for the contiguous United States throughout 2021. One on the scale represents the driest on record, while 127 represents the wettest.  Utah finished in the middle near the par.
This map shows the total precipitation for the contiguous United States throughout 2021. One on the scale represents the driest on record, while 127 represents the wettest. Utah finished in the middle near the par. (Photo: Environmental Information Center)

It was the result of a different trend that manifested itself throughout the year. The first half of the year remained almost as dry as 2020. The first half of 2021 was the eighth driest on record.

Between monsoons and snowstorms, the second half was much, much wetter. It actually ended with the wettest eighth second half on record in Utah.

The change began in July with the return of the monsoon season in southern Utah, which was both good and bad – bad only because there were several flash floods aided by the extremely dry ground due to the exceptional drought that had formed.

2021 produced the wettest July 12 and August 13 on record. As September and November dried up, October ranked in the top 20 wettest and it was the seventh wettest December on record.

The average year has dramatically improved the drought situation in Utah, but the drought lasts until 2022. In its weekly update Thursday, the drought monitor in the United States reported that 34% of the state remains in at least “extreme” drought – a significant drop from 71% the week before.

All parts of the state remain in drought and at least 93% remain in “severe” drought to start 2022, but the situation is much better than after June 2021. No part of the state is in a period. “exceptional” drought, or the most severe drought conditions, depending on the monitor. More than two-thirds of the state was in the “exceptional” category before the humidity change over the summer.

The good news, too, is that the most recent storms pushed Utah’s snowpack in 2022 above average midway through the snow season.

Utah’s rainfall history in 2021 was roughly the same as that of the entire region.

“Despite near-normal precipitation nationwide, 2021 has witnessed several significant region-wide events including an above-average monsoon season in the southwest and several atmospheric river events along the coast. Pacific, ”the center wrote in its report. “Drought remained widespread across much of the western United States throughout 2021.”

Meanwhile, annual precipitation across the contiguous United States was 30.48 inches, just over half an inch above average.

Utah included in billion dollar disasters

Climatic and meteorological events resulted in 688 deaths and projected $ 145 billion in damage throughout 2021, according to the Center for Environmental Information. It was the sixth deadliest and third costliest year since 1980 – and the deadliest year in over a decade.

Most major disasters involved severe thunderstorms. There have been 11 severe storms, such as the series of tornadoes that rocked Kentucky and other parts of the Midwest and Southeast last month.

Four more have been named storms, such as Hurricanes Ida and Nicholas. Hurricane Ida was also named the costliest event of the year with around $ 75 billion.

Western forest fires have been grouped into one category. While Utah avoided massive wildfires that plagued other parts of the region, the state’s 1,131 fires still contributed at least $ 43 million to the regional total.

This map shows where the top 20 weather and climate events occurred in 2021.
This map shows where the top 20 weather and climate events occurred in 2021. (Photo: Center for Environmental Information)

The Dixie Fire, the second largest fire on record in California, and the most recent Marshall Fire, accused of destroying nearly 1,000 homes in Colorado, are included in the report.

Although Utah was spared from the flames, it could not avoid the impacts of the fires.

“Smoke from several large fires created air quality and health problems in the western and contiguous United States for much of the season,” the report notes.

The drought in the west and summer heat waves, including in Utah, was one of 20 climate or weather disasters with damage to over $ 1 billion in 2021.

The federal agency says climate and weather have claimed more than 15,000 lives and caused more than $ 2.1 trillion in damage over the past 40 years. Almost a third of the deaths and just over a third of the damage costs have occurred in the past five years.

The United States averages about 7.4 major events over the past 40 years, but that also includes recent history. The five-year average is 17.2 events that cost over $ 1 billion. The record since 1980 is 22, set in 2020.

“The costs of disasters over the past five years (2017-2021) have exceeded a record $ 742 billion, reflecting the increased exposure and vulnerability of the United States to extreme weather and climate events,” officials added. in the report.

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