Utah blizzard ushers in a big chill
Driven by whipping, icy winds, a fast-moving arctic storm pummeled Utah overnight, dropping snow on the state from north to south.
By Wednesday morning much of nature's frigid rage had been spent, leaving the Beehive State a shivering landscape of treacherous roads and numbing cold.
As hundreds of snowplows cleared the state's freeways and major city arterials, the Utah Highway Patrol measured the aftermath: more than 300 storm-related accidents.
"It could have been a lot worse," said UHP Trooper Todd Johnson. "We had just nine injury accidents [on state highways and freeways] during the storm, none of them serious. There were 118 property damage crashes and 119 slideoffs or calls for assistance."
Two UHP patrol cars were hit by other vehicles, but no troopers were injured.
Johnson warned that with sub-freezing overnight temperatures expected to warm only into the teens throughout Wednesday, driving conditions on one of the heaviest holiday travel days leading into the Thanksgiving weekend remained dangerous.
"We just need people to slow down and exercise extreme caution. Roads are icy and still snowpacked in places, and even where it appears wet and clear, there's lots of black ice," Johnson said.
Fallen trees and tree limbs were primarily to blame for scattered power outages that kept Rocky Mountain Power crews hopping Wednesday morning restoring electricity service to approximately 3,400 customers.
Spokeswoman Margaret Oler said about 2,200 homes in south Weber County were without power for about an hour beginning at 9 a.m., but by 10 a.m. all but 100 of them had service restored. Crews continued to respond late Wednesday morning to 433 scattered outages in the Salt Lake Valley and nearly 800 in Green River.
All of the outages were weather-related, she said.
The Utah Department of Transportation restricted travel in Parleys and Big and Little Cottonwood canyons east of Salt Lake City, along with northern Utah's Sardine Canyon, to four-wheel drive or tire-chained vehicles.
The National Weather Service issued blizzard warnings early Wednesday for a swatch of the state ranging from central Utah's Manti area and Escalante running southwest to Richfield, Milford and Cedar City into Bryce Canyon and St. George, and into southeastern Utah's Monticello and Blanding districts.
Area ski resorts reported moderate new snow totals. Alta, Brighton and Brianhead resorts had 11 inches of new snow (Brighton's 9,500-foot crest measured 16), with Snowbird and Solitude recording 10 inches and Park City 5 inches.
Lows Wednesday and Thursday in northern Utah valleys will be in the single digits. Skies should turn partly cloudy Thursday. Salt Lake City, which recorded a low Wednesday of 10 degrees, was expected to shiver down to zero overnight Thursday.
The storm left backcountry slopes dangerous territory, however. The Utah Avalanche Center listed the Logan and western Uintas districts as "high" risk areas for winter sports enthusiasts, while Ogden, Salt Lake and Provo mountains carried "considerable" rankings for snowslide potential.
Salt Lake City International Airport said the delays in arrivals and departures noted late Tuesday during the height of the storm had abated. All flights were back to normal arrival and departure schedules by Wednesday morning, officials said.
More than 25 flights had been canceled as of 10 p.m. Tuesday and the blizzard also forced all three airport runways to close for about an hour.
In Salt Lake City, the homeless population seemed to have escaped the life-threatening overnight chill, too. Police dispatchers said they had no reports of transient deaths or injuries related to the cold weather overnight.
The storm rolled into the state about 4 p.m. Tuesday, a heavy and gray beast that stalked in from the northwest.
By Wednesday morning, 4 inches of snow had been measured in Salt Lake City, though totals of 8-10 inches were not uncommon for the east benches and southwestern portions of Salt Lake County. Brigham City and West Jordan each reported 8 inches, while northern Utah's Cache Valley had 6-8 inches.
"The timing was pretty much exactly what was predicted," National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Rogowski said.
As the blizzard grew worse, the Utah Transit Authority switched to snow routing, ordering that buses on 3300, 3900 and 4500 South travel no farther east than Highland Drive because of slick, steep roads.
Similar restrictions were in place for bus routes in the upper Avenues.
The Utah Department of Transportation opened Interstate 15 in both directions at Tremonton about 5 p.m. after it was closed for about 30 minutes. Interstate 84 from Utah's split at I-15 until the Idaho border was also reopened. However, visibility in the area is limited.
The forecast prompted schools, some city councils and entertainment venues to cancel classes and meetings. The Veterans Administration in Salt Lake City has canceled all appointments and surgeries at clinics throughout the state (except St. George) for Wednesday. For urgent VA medical questions, call at 801-584-2575 or 1-866-396-8020.
Tuesday night's performance of "Savior of the World" at the LDS Conference Center had been canceled. Those with tickets may contact the ticket office for refund or exchange information at 801-570-0080.
Utah State University and the University of Utah closed campuses Tuesday at 2 p.m.
USU was to re-open Wednesday at 9 a.m. but officials are asking students, faculty and staff to watch for updates on the school's website at http://www.usu.edu.
The U. will be open for classes on Wednesday.
Reporter Jason Bergreen contributed to this report
Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, and many other schools, including those in the Granite, Canyons, Murray, Salt Lake, Davis and Alpine districts, had already planned to close Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday. Others that changed their plans include:
Utah State University • USU was scheduled to re-open Wednesday at 9 a.m. but watch for updates on the school's website at http://www.usu.edu.
Salt Lake Community College • All campuses and sites were to reopen at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Any closure updates will be posted on the college home page at http://www.slcc.edu.
Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City • No classes will be held Wednesday and all school activities are canceled the remainder of the week.
South Summit School District • No classes will be held Wednesday.
Davis Applied Technology College • Classes will resume Wednesday.
Utah Valley University • No classes Wednesday because of Thanksgiving break.
Park City School District • Parents and teachers should consult the district's website at http://www.pcschools.us for updates.
Veterans Affairs • The V.A. in Salt Lake City has canceled all appointments and surgeries at clinics throughout the state (except St. George) for Wednesday. For urgent medical questions, call at 801-584-2575 or 866-396-8020. Storm safety
The United Fire Authority of Salt Lake County has some tips for coping with severe winter weather:
If possible, stay indoors. High winds coupled with cold temperatures and snow can lead to whiteout conditions, reducing visibility to just a few feet, making driving and other outdoor activities extremely hazardous.
Assemble a preparedness kit, including a flashlight and battery-operated radio with extra batteries, food, water, a manual can opener, blankets, and an alternate heating source in case of a power outage. Be sure you have food that does not need to be cooked in case the power does go out.
If someone in your home is on life support equipment, have a back-up system and a plan of action for an outage.
Protect water lines from freezing. Cover crawl spaces, open cupboard doors under sinks to provide warmth, and leave a trickle of water running. If your pipes freeze, don't use an open flame to thaw the lines.
Make sure pets have adequate shelter.
If you absolutely must travel, make sure your car is winterized and has a full gas tank. Carry a survival kit including a cell phone, blankets, flashlight, first-aid kit, nonperishable food, water, warm clothing, sand or kitty litter for traction, shovel, windshield scraper, tool kit, booster cables, water container, and road maps. And always give your travel itinerary to your family and follow it.
Remember the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window. Don't run a car or truck inside an attached garage, even if you leave the door garage open.
Stay tuned to sltrib.com and other radio, television, and Internet sites for the latest information on the storm.
Remember to call 911 only for life-threatening situations.