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Snow, cold make for hellish commute but Utah water outlook improves

Published December 27, 2012 2:26 pm

Weather • December storms promise more runoff this spring than in 2011.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Continuing snowfall and subfreezing temperatures made for a hellish commute Thursday morning in northern Utah, but there was a silver lining to the snow and icy conditions.

Utah is now at or above normal for December snowfall statewide, a marked contrast to the paltry precipitation of 2011 that led to widespread drought conditions this summer, said Brian McInerny, hydrologist for the National Weather Service's Salt Lake City office.

"We are actually over 100 percent of normal. It's fabulous when you look at how we got here," said McInerny, referring the dry conditions leading into the current water year, which began Oct. 1.

While the series of storms this month doesn't guarantee a good snowpack all winter, McInerny said it's difficult to make up a December deficit.

"The storms last year quit the first week of November, all the way through the third week of January, then it never kicked in and…runoff was terrible," he said. "At this time of year, what we went through last year, that's very good news. It's good for the ski resorts, good for water supply."

And the snow isn't expected to quit just yet.

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory into early Friday morning for the Wasatch Mountains and valleys running from Logan south through Ogden, Salt Lake City, Provo and Nephi, as well as from Manti south to Richfield, and Vernal south to Green River. Snow depths of two to five inches are predicted for valley locations, with one to two feet expected in the mountains.

The forecast for northern Utah calls for slowly diminishing snow showers through Friday afternoon. Skies Saturday through Monday will be cloudy to partly cloudy, with highs in the lower 30s. On Monday night, skies are expected to clear for New Year's Eve festivities, with lows between 15 and 20 degrees.

Southwestern Utah also should see partly cloudy skies through Monday, with highs in the mid-40s. New Year's Eve skies should be clear, with lows near 30.

During Thursday morning's commute, Utah Highway Patrol troopers were busy responding to several dozen crashes — fortunately, none involving serious injuries — and as many slideoffs on the region's interstates and highways. Two in particular, involving jackknifed semitrailer rigs in Salt Lake County, stalled traffic at southbound Interstate 15 near 13200 South and northbound I-15 near 2400 North for hours.

"We've had accidents here, there and everywhere out there today," said UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson. "They're just getting slaughtered out there with the calls coming in."

Between midnight and 10 a.m. Thursday, UHP logged more than 70 accidents and slideoffs in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties, nine of those involving minor injuries.

Snow totals from the storm reported by Thursday afternoon included 20 inches at Snowbasin; 19 at Liberty; 18 at Brighton; 14 at Alta; 12 along the Ogden benches; 11 at The Canyons Resort and Brigham City; and 10 inches in Clearfield and Grantsville. In Salt Lake City, snow depths ranged from 7 inches in the valley to 8 inches on the benches, while Logan and Lehi reported 4 inches.

The Utah Avalanche Center listed the mountains of Ogden, Provo, Logan and Salt Lake at "moderate" risk for dangerous backcountry snowslides on Thursday, while the Skyline and Uintas mountain districts were at "considerable" risk for avalanches.

Preliminary avalanche risk ratings for Friday fell into the "moderate" category for mountains near Moab, Ogden, Provo and Salt Lake.

Tribune staffer Anne Wilson contributed to this story.

remims@sltrib.com

Move it, or you might lose it

Residents of unincorporated Salt Lake County are being reminded to move vehicles off the street before and during winter storms to allow snow removal. From November through April, it is illegal to leave a car parked or abandoned when there is snow on the roadway. Violators may be cited or their vehicles impounded.

The county said vehicles on roadways have caused problems during this week's storms.