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SALT LAKE CITY — Bundle up. Cold temperatures are here to stay.
Following a few unseasonably warm days through Thanksgiving and the weekend, temperatures are expected to plunge below freezing by Wednesday following a snowstorm that could plague commuters Tuesday.
Arctic air is pushing in from the Gulf of Alaska, bringing with it snow Monday night or Tuesday morning, KSL meteorologist Kevin Eubank said. Several inches of snow could fall in the valleys, with 1 to 2 feet anticipated in the Wasatch Mountains.
That could mean trouble for drivers.
"With (6 inches or more) of new snow along the benches of Davis and Weber counties and wind gusts near 60 mph, look for considerable blowing and drifting snow Tuesday evening into Wednesday," Eubank warned.
The cold front is projected to stall over central Utah for 36 to 48 hours, dropping 8 to 12 inches of snow from Scipio to Cove Fort and beyond, creating dangerous road conditions along I-15, he said.
With (6 inches or more) of new snow along the benches of Davis and Weber counties and wind gusts near 60 mph, look for considerable blowing and drifting snow Tuesday evening into Wednesday.
–Kevin Eubank, KSL meteorologist
The Utah Department of Transportation issued a warning Monday evening cautioning travelers about potential weather hazards stretching from Payson to Cedar City.
UDOT also advised drivers to limit travel on I-40 between Daniels Summit and the Colorado border, as well as over Soldier Summit on U.S. 6.
Temperatures are expected to drop into the 20s through Sunday.
UDOT gears up for the first big storm
While the first storm is almost never the biggest of the season, it's often the one that takes more work than most. But UDOT said their drivers and fleet of some 500 snowplow trucks are ready for the winter.
"We're already fully geared up. All our equipment is up and running and ready to go for this one," said Lee Nitchman, a maintenance engineer for the Utah Department of Transportation.
You'll see plenty of trucks on the roads in the early part of Tuesday morning, including a newer model Tow Plow that clears multiple lanes of the road.
"(It) is able to clear three lanes and adjust to the snow and into the traffic; and it's one of the newer snowplows that UDOT has," said Jake Brown, a UDOT roadway operations manager.
One of the main concerns for UDOT drivers is the safety of the people in the vehicles on the road with them. The best position for those cars is behind the plows, the drivers said.
David Kelley is a UDOT plow technician who learned of the danger firsthand last winter.
"A couple of cars tried to pass me on the left-hand side," he said. "They got right to the front of me, ahead of me, and they both spun out."
While a similar situation would be alarming for any snowplow driver, a potential impact would be much worse for anyone in a car.
"I'm in this great big truck, you know, and I'm gonna be OK. It's the people that are in the cars, those are the ones who are gonna get hurt."
Statewide, Utahns can expect about 10,000 tons of salt being used to clear the roadways.
"We don't expect a large impact on the Wasatch Front, but there will be snow out there," Williams said.
With an early start, operations managers are hoping drivers will be able to clear most of the snow before the big traffic hits the highways.
While plows are on the road, a team of forecasters will help coordinate which areas they need to hit first.
"It's very important to basically optimize our resources out there and make sure that we do focus on areas that are getting more concern for the road than others," said Jeff Williams, also a UDOT operations manager.
Meanwhile, another storm is moving toward the state and is expected to hit northern Utah next week, accompanied by more arctic air. The high-pressure system will allow smog and fog to develop through the middle of December, Eubank said.