Massive Wednesday storm expected to continue into Thursday morning, could affect morning commute

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sampset Sompsou shovels the walks outside his apartment building in Salt Lake City following a heavy storm on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019.

A massive snowstorm across Utah on Wednesday that led to hundreds of car crashes, a crawling morning commute, some canyon closures, schools cancelling classes and the delayed opening of many state offices was expected to continue through the night and into Thursday morning.

The National Weather Service predicted that snowfall of 1 to 4 inches — mostly in Salt Lake and Davis counties — could affect early Thursday morning commutes before tapering off.

“If it’s snowed overnight, anticipate slick roads,” said Mike Conger, a forecaster with the weather service of Salt Lake City. “Even if it doesn’t, with as much water as was on the roads today and the temperatures falling, there could be some slick spots — especially on side streets and in residential areas.”

The service reported record breaking 24-hour snowfall for Feb. 6 at its Alta, Fillmore, Salt Lake Triad, Tooele and Utah Lake Lehi stations. Most cities in the Salt Lake and Tooele valleys received at least a foot of snow by mid-afternoon Wednesday. Millcreek had 15.5 inches at noon, while Tooele received 15 inches by 2 p.m.

Many of Utah’s ski resorts were also pounded with dense, heavy snow. But skiers were kept from enjoying the fresh powder after Utah Department of Transportation crews ordered Little Cottonwood Canyon closed because of avalanche danger. The canyon had reopened by 5 p.m. to cars with four-wheel drive or chains, while Big Cottonwood Canyon opened at noon Wednesday to bus and residential traffic only.

John Gleason, a UDOT spokesman, told The Salt Lake Tribune on Wednesday night that he expected snow seekers would be able to get up the canyon for their powder fix on Thursday.

“Right now just looking at it without taking into consideration all the lake effect snow we’re getting now, the anticipation is that we’re going to be able to open it up and it should hopefully be smooth sailing in the morning,” he said, noting that no avalanche control work was predicted.

The Utah Highway Patrol estimated that, as of 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, troopers had responded to 471 crashes since the storm first hit early Tuesday morning in Cedar City. Of those, 272 crashes happened Wednesday, including an 11 car pile-up on Interstate 15 in Davis County. That crash shut down the freeway for about two hours Wednesday morning.

In the Salt Lake valley, UDOT reported slick roads all over the region, with many accidents, slide-offs and slow traffic.

While the Utah Legislature chugged along as scheduled, the snow also slowed or stopped operations in some governments offices. City employees in Sandy were told to work from home Wednesday and other cities had reduced staff and hours. Non-essential Salt Lake City workers were told to remain at home and city offices and libraries were closed.

Lisa Shaffer, Salt Lake City’s director of public services, said at a Wednesday news conference that the city’s 45 snow plows were focused on clearing top-priority streets, which include major arterials and roads providing access to hospitals and police and fire stations.

“These guys are fighting as hard as they can,” she said. “That’s why we call them snow fighters.”

Residents can monitor the location and progress of snow plows via the city’s website, with maps updated every 30 seconds.

While there had been an uptick in serious traffic accidents, Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown said police had responded to 12 road incidents and that officers were mostly involved with helping members of the public push their vehicles out of driveways and snowbanks.

Nancy Volmer, spokeswoman for Salt Lake International Airport, said operations had run smoothly throughout the storm. De-icing of jets caused some flight delays and one cancellation, the airport said Wednesday night, and air travelers were urged to consult updated flight schedules online going into Thursday morning.

Although disruptive, the accumulated snow is “a bounty for us” in terms of improving snow pack in the mountains, according to Laura Briefer, director of the city’s Department of Public Utilities.

“Our water supplies at this point are looking pretty good,” Briefer said.