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Record-breaking snowstorm wreaks havoc in Utah

Vaccines and planes delayed; schools and roads closed.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Phil Plumb clears the sidewalk near Wasatch Hollow park as Salt Lake City gets its first substantial snow fall of winter on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.

Salt Lake City on Wednesday received the most snow it has gotten in recent history on a single day in February.

Around noon, the National Weather Service reported 11.7 inches of snow. The previous record was in 1989, when 10.9 inches fell on Feb. 1, according to the National Weather Service. Wednesday also received the seventh most snow for any day in the Salt Lake City area in recorded history. The most snow, 14 inches, fell on Nov. 24, 1908.

With the snow came closures and chaos.

The Salt Lake City International Airport reported that 17 flights out of Salt Lake City were canceled and 71 were delayed. Another 19 flights into Salt Lake City were canceled and 34 were delayed.

COVID-19 vaccines through the Salt Lake County Health Department scheduled for Wednesday were postponed until Sunday.

Multiple schools were delayed, canceled or moved to remote learning amid the unprecedented snowfall. The Canyons and Murray School Districts closed their schools and held classes online. Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah canceled early-morning classes.

Avalanche danger in the Salt Lake area is currently rated as extreme by the Utah Avalanche Center. In addition to backcountry skiers, hikers and dog walkers have been warned not to get under steep slopes. Avalanches might run historic distances or create new paths, the center warned on Twitter.

The high avalanche danger caused the Utah Department of Transportation to close SR 210, the road that runs through Little Cottonwood Canyon, indefinitely.

Two UDOT vehicles were buried in a natural slide in the canyon on Wednesday while workers were conducting avalanche control, according to spokesman John Gleason. Both of the UDOT employees driving the vehicles were unharmed.

Road conditions were also bad. UDOT issued a travel warning Tuesday night telling drivers to stay off the road if possible until 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. The Utah Highway patrol said Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. that they were up 315 calls since midnight in Salt Lake County alone.

By Wednesday evening, the UHP reported 219 crashes statewide, including one fatality and another with critical injuries.

“Keep it slow in ice and snow, buckle up and pay 100% of your attention on the task of driving and the road ahead,” tweeted the UHP.

There is a bright spot in the winter storm. Utah’s snowpack is doing better, according to the National Weather Service. The low snowfall caused increased concerns about Utah’s ongoing drought. Most of the state is still trending below the median snowpack percent based on 1981-2010 levels, but the snowpack is increasing. Southern Utah and the Price-San Rafael areas were in the 50%-69% range for snowfall on Feb. 14 but had moved into the 70%-89% range as of Wednesday morning.

Thursday is expected to be dry and chilly in the Wasatch Range, but more winter weather is expected Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

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