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Snow pounds the Wasatch Front as commuters ready for drive home

Snow pounds the Wasatch Front as commuters ready for drive home

By Katie McKellar | Posted - Dec. 14, 2015 at 11:55 a.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's first major snowstorm of the season brought a grueling commute for motorists along the Wasatch Front Monday, set the stage for an equally tough commute home, and scattered collisions, slide-offs, power outages and school and business closures throughout the day.

Nearly a foot of snow in Farmington didn't stop 11-year-old Ethan Peterson, however, as he headed out to school on his unicyle — wearing shorts, to the horror of his mother, Dorene Peterson.

"I was not home when he left, or I would have made him put warmer clothes on," she said. "I don't know what he was thinking … but he was excited. Yesterday, when he found out it was going to snow, he told me he wanted to ride his unicycle in the snow. I thought he was kidding."

Ethan made it to school without incident, but the same could not be said for hundreds of other Utahns.

After snow fell throughout the night and packed all major roadways, the Utah Highway Patrol reported 104 crashes in Salt Lake County, 52 in Utah County and 26 in Davis County, snarling traffic on freeways throughout the region.

Snow was expected off and on throughout the day and into Tuesday, said Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason.

"This is really our first major test as drivers for the season," he said. "Over the next two days, we're going to see quite a bit of snow. Tonight's and tomorrow morning's commute could be just as treacherous as this morning."

Traffic, power impact

As of 10 a.m., the Salt Lake City National Weather Service reported 18 inches of snow in Bountiful, 14 inches in upper Millcreek and 9 inches in Draper. Nearly 6 inches were measured at the Salt Lake City International Airport as of 11 a.m.

Although Gleason said no major crashes had occurred through the morning, slide-offs and other minor fender benders have aggravated traffic and slowed snowplow efforts "across the board," even though he said several hundred plows were in operation Monday morning.

"Plan ahead, adjust your travel times, avoid unnecessary trips and work from home today and tomorrow if you can," Gleason told KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show" Monday morning. "That might help take some of the vehicles off the road and give our plows a chance to do their work."

TRAX experienced delays of 10 to 15 minutes on the Red and Blue lines and on FrontRunner. Salt Lake City International Airport officials also urged travelers to check their flight status online before leaving for the airport, although no serious delays or cancellations were reported.

Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce said conditions will likely worsen Tuesday morning, after roads ice over during the night.

"As roads start to freeze, that's where our big worry is," he said. "Roads start to look clear and people's speeds increase, and that's when we get the severe crashes. But tomorrow morning is going to get bad — we don't want to let our guards down."

The National Weather Service reported additional snow accumulations of 8 to 16 inches in northern mountains, 6 to 10 inches in northern valleys, and 3 to 6 inches in southwestern valleys.

In addition to one- to two-hour delays on some freeways — including from the Point of the Mountain to the south interchange and along the east bench — thousands of Utahns also experienced power outages.

Power outages have impacted power customers throughout the day. As of 7 p.m., power was still out to more than 1,000 people in Riverton. At last check, Rocky Mountain Power did not have a target time when they'll restore power there.

The utility also reported over 2,000 customers were without power in Beaver County. The electricity was expected to be restored there by 9:30 p.m.

Restrictions and safety

Gleason urged motorists to slow down, and, if they are involved in a crash, pull off to the side of the road.

"The safest thing to do is move your vehicle out of harm's way, because if you've hit an icy patch, there's a good chance someone else will hit that same patch," he said. "If your vehicle won't move, stay in your vehicle, put your seatbelt on and call for help. Do not get out of your vehicle to inspect damage."

"We've seen too many terrible incidents, fatalities, (involving) people getting out of their car after getting in a crash."

Four-wheel drive or chains were required on vehicles traveling through Parleys Canyon and Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.

Unified Police Lt. Lex Bell said while the roads are wet and slippery, traffic in the canyons was flowing well. Plows worked through the night to keep the canyon roadways clear in anticipation of the snow, he said.

"(We're much worse off on the south end of the valley near the river bottoms and the east bench right now," Bell said on KSL Newsradio. "The canyons are pretty busy, but traffic is going well. No need for closures and no reports of major backings or slide-offs."

"They're getting plenty of people going up there to enjoy that powder," he added. "I expect it to be like that for the next two days."

Closures, delays

To discourage motorists from driving icy roads on Salt Lake's east bench, Hogle Zoo closed Monday, canceling ZooLights events.

"It's for the safety of our guests and staff," said zoo spokeswoman Erica Hansen. "We want to keep as many people off the side of the hill as we can."

Hansen added animals, including the tigers, snow leopards and polar bears, will revel in the snow, while other animals that would prefer to stay dry will stay "toasty and warm" indoors.

"We hope we'll be back up and running tomorrow" she said. "But we'll have to wait and see what the weather holds."

All Salt Lake City library locations also closed at 3 p.m. Monday.

School closures included Mana Academy Charter School in West Valley City and Intermountain Christian School in Holladay.

The University of Utah cancelled all classes and finals scheduled for 5:30 p.m. or later, according to U. spokeswoman Maria O'Mara.

While most schools remained open on regular times, some delayed start times until 10 a.m., including East Hollywood High School in West Valley City and Legacy Preparatory Academy South Campus K-4 in North Salt Lake.

Both Eastwood Elementary and Oakridge Elementary were also delayed until 10 a.m., according to Granite School District.

"We want parents to be able to exercise the best decisions for their families, so we've given direction to principals to be lenient when we have a weather situation like today," Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley told "The Doug Wright Show" Monday morning.

He said schools refrain from issuing snow days whenever possible, believing its in the best interest for students who may rely on school lunches or would otherwise remain home alone while their parents go to work.

However, he did indicate that some parents at Churchill Junior High have checked their kids out of school to go skiing.

"It's a strange day to say the least," Horsley said.

Ski resorts

Ski Utah spokesman Paul Marshall said Monday's storm bodes well for skiers across the entire state

"It's perfect timing for our busy season right around the corner," he said. "This will make sure resorts will operate at 100 percent."

Snowbasin Resort enjoyed a "monster dump," he said, with roughly 12 inches of snow.

Ski Utah's daily snow report recorded the following snow measurements:

  • Alta — 5 inches
  • Brian Head — 7 inches
  • Brighton — 7 inches
  • Deer Valley — 6 inches
  • Nordic Valley — 8 inches
  • Park City — 5 inches
  • Powder Mountain — 8 inches
  • Snowbasin — 12 inches
  • Snowbird — 5 inches
  • Solitude — 6 inches
  • Sundance — 7 inches Avalanche watchWhile skiers will be heading to the peaks to enjoy the fresh powder, authorities have issued an avalanche watch in the northern and central mountains of Utah.

The U.S. Forest Service Utah Avalanche Center reported Sunday that dangerous avalanche conditions were expected to begin Monday and last throughout the week in southeast Idaho, the Bear River Range, the Western Uintas and the Wasatch Plateau.

Danger will be greatest on mid- and upper-elevation slopes facing west and north, the forest service reported.

The advisory did not apply, however, to ski areas where avalanche control is normally conducted. Email: kmckellar@deseretnews.com Twitter: KatieMcKellar1

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Katie McKellar

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