Snowstorm slams Utah commuters, more coming
Another "full on winter" storm predicted for Tuesday morning's commute could stage a repeat performance of the slippery, often impassable, conditions encountered by drivers on Monday.
In a weather briefing issued Monday afternoon, National Weather Service hydrologist Brian McInerny described the next wave of the storm system as "full on winter."
"The event will bring widespread snow across the state with some pretty good winds," he said.
Expected snow amounts range from 8 to 16 inches in northern mountains, 2 to 5 inches in valley areas, and 4 to 8 in central mountains. The storm will continue into Tuesday afternoon in valleys, and through Thursday in mountain areas.
The good news is that ski conditions have improved. But the downside of all that snow is more dangerous avalanche conditions in the backcountry, McInerny noted.
Sunday night's record-breaking snowstorm, compounded by a TRAX pedestrian accident, resulted in stop-and-go traffic Monday morning on I-15 in both directions and on surface roads into Salt Lake City. While the city said all of its 45 snowplows had been out all night clearing streets, residents were grumbling about road conditions, according to Art Raymond, spokesman for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
"We're getting a lot of calls, of course, from folks who are having trouble," Raymond said Monday morning. "We can only do what can do."
The big snowstorm of several weeks ago followed by very cold temperatures created conditions that made Monday's plow work more difficult and slower, he said.
"Our snowplow crews are dealing with the effects of a substantial snowfall, a freezing event, and more snow," he said. "The snow that came down [Sunday into Monday morning] fell on frozen roads and it's difficult to get the blades all the way down to the asphalt."
Raymond said the priority was clearing arterial and collector roads, as well as those leading to emergency services. In residential areas, the city intentionally clears just a single lane to avoid blocking driveways, he said.
Impassable streets meant some UTA buses were diverted to special "snow routes" that avoid treacherous or unplowed streets, according to UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter. He estimated that around a dozen buses were diverted, but by 10 a.m. all normal routes had been restored.
Larry Helquist, Salt Lake County Operations Division maintenance supervisor, said Monday that 80 trucks worked around the clock to clear roads in unincorporated areas of the county, as well as Holladay, Cottonwood Heights and Taylorsville. According to Helquist, the first crews began plowing at 3:30 p.m. Sunday and all trucks were working by 1:30 a.m. He said the trucks were deployed as needed, though they struggled to keep up with the snowfall until the storm cleared up late Monday morning.
Helquist said Cottonwood Heights was particularly hard hit, receiving as much as 10 inches of snow. Residents had complained that their driveways were blocked by plowed snow.
The messy commute kept Utah Highway Patrol troopers busy. In Salt Lake County, troopers responded to 29 crashes, including three with injuries, and 63 slideoffs, UHP spokesman Todd Johnson said. Drivers in Utah County were involved in just three crashes and five slideoffs. Only one person was injured in Utah County. None of the injury accidents were serious, Johnson said.
Not everyone was grumpy about the snow dump, however. Snowville, on the Utah-Idaho border, received the most snow of any Utah community, which seemed to delight at least some of the town's residents.
"There were lots of trucks in town [Sunday] that needed chains to go east," said Nancy Warren, who works at Mollie's Cafe. "Several are still here and just kicking it. The snow has been good for everything. We needed something. We were all freezing to death. The change of weather was good."
Sunday's overnight storm dropped 9.9 inches at Salt Lake International Airport, a record-breaking amount for that date, according to the National Weather Service. Twelve inches were reported in Centerville and Bountiful, 9 inches in Millcreek and 8.2 inches in South Salt Lake. Alta and Brighton saw 15 and 13 inches, respectively. The storm dropped as much as 7 inches of snow on Ogden.
The next leg of the storm will come with continued cold temperatures along the Wasatch Front. In Salt Lake City, Tuesday temperatures are expected to range into the upper-20s. Ogden and Provo will see similar temperatures.
In St. George, skies Tuesday will be mostly cloudy, with highs in the mid-40s.
While the heavy snow made travel difficult, it offered relief from weeks of inversion and polluted air. Salt Lake, Utah, Weber and Cache counties all were expected to have good air quality Tuesday. In Duchesne, a yellow air alert was expected, with unhealthy conditions for sensitive groups.
NWS forecaster Monica Traphagan said Utah is slowly moving out of inversion season. Though sporadic bad air days will likely continue through February, Traphagan said the Wasatch Front likely won't see more of the continuous stretches of bad air that plagued the region in January.
Tribune reporters Tom Wharton and Christopher Smart contributed to this story.
In northern Utah, skies should clear after Thursday, with sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 30s forecasted for Salt Lake County. Southwestern Utah will see partly to mostly sunny skies this weekend, with highs near 60.