A snow squall brought heavy, blinding snow and strong winds to northern Utah on Monday, disrupting traffic along the Wasatch Front during the evening commute and leaving thousands without power as temperatures dropped.
The Utah Department of Transportation reported wrecks and delays throughout the evening and officials restricted vehicles without four-wheel drive or tire chains from traveling through Parleys and Sardine canyons. Utah Transit Authority busses changed routes to avoid slick roads.
Around 6 p.m., a car hit an electricity pole in Salt Lake County, cutting power to more than 6,400 Rocky Mountain Power customers in West Valley City and Taylorsville.
The cause, according to the power company’s website: “snow.”
Rocky Mountain Power estimated crews could restore power by 9:30 p.m. The National Weather Service predicted the low in West Valley City on Monday night would be 15 degrees.
Squalls are weather events that feature a sudden increase in wind speed by at least 18 mph. But forecaster predicted this storm could produce wind gusts faster than 30 mph along with snow — meaning possible whiteout conditions and slick roads, according to the weather service, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Seaman said.
Seaman said data shows this storm was more “intense” than anticipated, with wind gusting 45-50 mph and reaching 68 mph in Tooele. He said the snow totals — preliminary reports of about 2 to 3 inches — along the Wasatch Front were about what forecasters predicted.
The squall warning covered parts of Wasatch, Salt Lake, Summit, Utah and Tooele counties and was in effect until 6:45 p.m. This included Interstate 15 and Interstate 215 near Layton and Ogden, as well as I-15, I-215, Interstate 80 and U.S. Route 89 near Salt Lake City and West Valley City, according to the weather service.
An emergency alert issued to area residents also warned of heavy snow and a “sudden drop” to near-zero visibility on icy roadways.
“Slow down or delay travel!” the alert read.
Around 5 p.m., officials closed U.S. 89 through Sardine Canyon to all vehicles without four-wheel drive or tire chains. All lanes of I-80 through Parleys Canyon followed with the same restrictions about an hour later.
Utah Highway Patrol responded to 40 crashes and stopped to help about 100 others across the state between 4 and 6:30 p.m. Monday, spokesperson Sgt. Cameron Roden said. He said those were early numbers and expected “substantially more” reports by the morning.
The storm also closed some coronavirus testing sites — which health officials expected would be busy after the holiday weekend — early, including the Old Workforce Services Building and Highland High in Salt Lake County, Davis Technical College in Davis County and the Saratoga Springs mobile site in Utah County.
“People in line may be provided with at-home test kits at sites that close early,” the state tweeted.
The squall warning was issued during an ongoing winter weather advisory for the northern Wasatch Front, which began mid-afternoon Monday and will continue through early Tuesday.
It was the first squall warning the National Weather Service has ever issued for the Wasatch Front and this is just the second year the service has been sending out those warnings, Seaman said.
Seaman said the National Weather Service will only issue warnings if a squall is predicted to reach certain thresholds: winds over 30 mph, snow that limits driving visibility to a quarter-mile and low temperatures that could mean roads become dangerously icy and slick.
The storm will spread into southern Utah through Monday night and continue into Tuesday before tapering off. The winter weather advisory goes into effect there at 8 p.m. Monday and continues until 1 p.m. Tuesday. The weather service said up to an inch of snow (”primarily on grass”) is possible in St. George on Monday night.
In Salt Lake City, there is a small chance of snow in the forecast for Tuesday, and it will be cold — a high of just 26 is forecast. Snow is possible again on Wednesday, with more snow possible on Thursday and Friday.
After daytime highs in the low- to mid-30s and overnight lows in the 20s, it is expected to be frigid on New Year’s Eve — the overnight low on Friday is forecast at 13 degrees. On New Year’s Day, a high of just 25 is expected, and a low of about 9 degrees is forecast in the evening.
In southern Utah, the forecast this week calls for temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s Tuesday through Friday. There is a chance of snow Tuesday through Friday, with the possibility of some accumulation, mostly on Wednesday night.
St. George residents can expect a mix of rain and snow on New Year’s Eve, with temperatures falling from the low 40s to the low 20s overnight. New Year’s Day will be sunny, with highs in the mid-30s. And it will be very cold Saturday night, with a low of about 16.