Winter storm slams Utah: Season's first avalanche watch, snowy commute home

by Judy Fahys and Mark Havnes
The Salt Lake Tribune


Expect rain rather than snow for the evening commute tonight as a wet Pacific storm settles in statewide. "In the evening, we should see things changing over to snow and accumulating across the [Wasatch Valley] floors." said Linda Cheng, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City The rain helped clean the valley air, where high pressure had trapped the pollution buildup at ground level for the past two days. The daytime high in northern Utah was expected to be around 40 in advance of a five-degree drop expected on Saturday.


Patches of snow accumulated in several valley areas, including Tooele and Ogden. But most of the accumulation was in the Wasatch and Uinta mountains.


Brighton Crest in eastern Salt Lake County had recorded 11 inches by 3 a.m., and Snowbasin in Weber County measured 7 inches by 7 a.m.
The Snyderville Basin in Summit County, with a foot by 8 a.m., was one of the mountain communities that already had snow accumulations Friday morning. Ferron reported 5.5 inches by 5 a.m. And Suncrest reported 2 inches by 10 a.m. The mountain accumulations prompted the first avalanche watch of the season.


The Utah Avalanche Center's advisory applies to the northern Wasatch Mountains from Ogden to Park City and Provo. With new snow With new snow piling up on top of a weak snow layer that has been laid down in recent weeks, slides are more likely to occur just as powder-starved Utahns rush to the backcountry, said avalanche forecaster Brett Kobernik.


"We want to get the word out that the avalanche danger is on the rise this weekend," he said. The weather service issued a heavy snow warning for much of the state north of St. George. The warning continues until 6 p.m. Saturday, when snow showers are expected to taper off. By then, the valleys are expected to have up to 10 inches of accumulation, with the benches seeing more and some mountain areas getting as much as three feet, forecasters said.


The avalanche center has the most up-to-date information for people headed into Utah's backcountry on its web site"uac/ and on its hotline 888-999-4019.


Flash flood warnings applied to entire extreme southern areas of the state.


In southwestern Utah, Dan Webster, a safety coordinator with UDOT, said plows were working around the Cove Fort area of I-15 south of Fillmore where roads started to become slushy Friday morning.


He said state roads 143 and 14 in Iron County were snow packed with high winds causing drifting snow and poor visibility. UDOT plows are prepared to be out on I-15 as needed once the snow starts falling as forecast for Friday night and Saturday. Webster said he expects the snow to be a problem on the freeway beginning about 27 miles north of St. George.


"We have extra crews on standby and our equipment is ready," said Webster. "We're good to go just waiting for it to hit."


At Brian Head, east of Parowan, town clerk Nancy Leigh, said about six inches of snow had fallen by noon Friday and more is expected. "We need it," said Leigh, adding one lift at Brian Head Resort is open and more are expected to open over the weekend. In Washington County, Dean Cox, emergency services director, said a flash flood warning had been issued for the eastern part of the county, but he did not know of any flooding incidents. He said rehabilitation efforts on slopes charred by summer fires were slow to take root, causing some flooding concerns. He said he would be spending most of Friday checking on drainages.