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Storm set to coincide with busiest road-travel week of the year

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SALT LAKE CITY -- If you're traveling far by car for Thanksgiving this week, you'll be in company with about 3 million other people from the mountain states, and you'll be in the sights of a major winter storm.

Wind and heavy snow are predicted to start somewhere between 3 and 6 p.m. Tuesday and last through noon Wednesday. The storm could impact nearly all of Utah's I-15 corridor.

A blizzard warning remains in effect for the mountains and valleys of northern Utah through 11 a.m. Wednesday. Blizzard conditions could exist, especially in mountain areas.

National Weather Service Meteorologist in Charge Larry Dunn says, "[We expect] 3 to 6 inches in down here in the valleys, the northern valleys. [There may be] 8 inches to 14 additional inches in the northern mountains."

Three to 6 inches in the valleys may not sound like much, but Dunn says there will be very strong winds and bitterly cold temperatures causing whiteout conditions.

He says, "The visibility is going to be a lot lower than normal."

Travel by car

Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Todd Johnson said for people trying to travel, planning ahead will be a must. He said the good thing is people now have weather forecasts virtually at their fingertips. His advice is, if the roads are bad, stay off them; but if you must travel, slow down.

That thought is echoed by James Burke, a professional driving instructor at the Larry H. Miller Motor Sports Park's performance schools. Even he's surprised by the speed of other drivers sometimes.

"At times I'm on the highway and I'm going slow," he said, "and there are cars passing me."

If you have to be on the road in a storm, or if you get stuck in one, Burke has some advice. First, he says, you should look as far ahead as possible, giving you more time to react. Beyond that, Burke said driving on slick roads is a matter of physics: avoid slowing down or speeding up while the front wheels are turned.

UDOT's Tania Mashburn, said, "You're probably going to want to avoid commute times. Try to leave a little bit earlier or later than everybody else. If you can, leave a day earlier or a day later."

Keep in mind, there will still be narrow lanes and reduced speeds in Utah County on I-15 with the Core project, though there won't be any crews on the road this weekend.

"The good news is most of our work is done for the season, or we are actually pulling back for the Thanksgiving holiday because there will be so many travelers," Mashburn said.

"We have a 10.7 percent increase in the number of travelers in the mountain states," Rolayne Fairclough, with AAA, said. "Make sure you get a good rest before you go. So many crashes happen because of fatigue."

Good tires and a good working car are also critical. Johnson also advises people to carry emergency kits in their cars, complete with blankets and some food and water.

Travel by air

Travelers Monday are getting a head start on the holiday rush at the airport. It's a smart idea, considering Wednesday is expected to be really busy there, but not the busiest day.

Barbara Gann, with the Salt Lake International Airport, said, "We get busier days during the summer sometimes, but the fact is there are more meters and greeters, so the terminals are more crowded, parking is more crowded."

If you have to fly out Wednesday, Gann recommends, "to be very aware of the weather, and allow plenty of time to get to the airport."

An hour and a half is recommended.


Story compiled with contributions from Marc Giauque and Amanda Butterfield

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