SALT LAKE CITY — A winter storm warning was issued for mountainous areas along the Wasatch Front and northern Utah ahead of a storm expected to arrive in the state Thursday night.
The storm is forecast to be the beginning of a series of patterns that would deliver to the state much-needed precipitation over the next week. In fact, the National Weather Service released a seven-day model Wednesday that indicates Utah would significantly narrow precipitation and snowpack deficits that have been around since the beginning of the 2021 water year.
The model projects that storms over the next week could each result in as much as 6 inches of precipitation in mountain areas like Alta. That equates to several feet of snow over the span of a week.
It all begins with a storm expected to arrive in Utah in the late hours of Thursday night, which will provide valley rain and "significant" mountain snow, KSL Weather meteorologist Grant Weyman said. The storm will continue overnight into Friday morning.
The National Weather Service projected the storm rolling in Thursday night to dump more than a foot of snow along the Wasatch Mountains and deliver close to a foot of snow along mountains in central Utah and parts of southern Utah by early Saturday. The heaviest totals are expected in northern Utah, especially by the Utah-Idaho border, and in the Cottonwood canyons. That's why the agency issued a winter storm warning for those areas, which will remain in effect through almost all of Friday.
A winter weather advisory was issued for many other mountainous areas across central and southern Utah and will be in effect from 2 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. The advisory states anywhere from 5 to 10 inches could fall in those areas.
The Salt Lake County Emergency Management issued a warning in connection with the winter storm saying that the mountains were expected to receive significant snowfall, increasing avalanche danger. The Utah Avalanche Center reports that avalanche conditions remain "considerable" and urges caution for anyone looking to recreate in Utah's mountains.
2-10-2021: We've issued an Avalanche Watch for very dangerous avalanche conditions beginning Friday and lasting through the weekend.— UAC Logan (@UAClogan) February 11, 2021
Here is a stability test from yesterday showing unstable snow conditions. A slab of wind drifted snow sitting on very weak faceted snow. East,7600' pic.twitter.com/hIbFLhvBey
In addition to avalanche danger, Rocky Mountain Power officials announced that they are preparing for possible power interruptions due to the contamination of last week's "brown snow." According to a press release, the snow was "mixed with pollutants and dust, coated equipment on major system assets supplying power to customers along the Wasatch Front. Light precipitation causes the accumulation of dust and particles to become conductive, sometimes resulting in arcing and sparking, which can create power interruptions."
Rocky Mountain Power said additional crews will be working to anticipate possible interruptions.
The Utah Department of Transportation tweeted that motorists should use the most caution while driving in the canyons between Salt Lake and Summit counties and while driving through canyons in Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties. Driving may also be tricky through other higher-elevation areas in the state.
"In terms of the commute (Friday), it's going to be wet. We don't have to worry about the snow down low," Weyman said. "But places like the top of Parleys (Canyon), some of the mountain areas — it's going to be pretty snowy."
Most communities will receive rain as a result of the storm. The weather service forecast listed some cities across northern and central Utah like Logan, Brigham City, Heber City and Price may receive a brushing of snow. Higher-elevation communities like Park City could receive 4 to 6 inches of snow, as well.
Prayers for precipitation answered?
The storms that reached Utah over the past few weeks have helped precipitation totals. Entering Thursday, National Weather Service data show its official weather station near the Salt Lake City International Airport received 1.12 inches of precipitation since 2021 began. That's 0.54 inches below normal for the first few weeks of the calendar year.
The city is still well below the average for this point in the water year, which began on Oct. 1, 2020. It entered Thursday 3.61 inches below the average, due largely to a dry fall across the state.
Meanwhile, snowpack totals were 62% of average halfway through the normal snow season. That worried water conservation experts earlier this week.
Gov. Spencer Cox even paused for a moment to mention Thursday's storm during his weekly COVID-19 press briefing Thursday morning.
"We certainly need the water," he said.
The National Weather Service projects that much-needed rain and snow is on the way beyond Thursday night's storm. A series of storms are expected to arrive in Utah over the three-day weekend and the start of the next workweek. A storm Saturday evening into Sunday is expected to provide valley snow in some places, as well as heavy mountain snow in central and southern Utah.
Another storm is expected to provide more mountain snow Monday and Tuesday. The weather service's seven-day outlook posted Wednesday would narrow precipitation and snowpack deficit further if it comes to fruition.
The model projected 4 to 6 inches of precipitation in Alta, as well as several inches of precipitation in Utah's mountains through the mid-point of next week. The National Severe Storms Laboratory points out that 1 inch of precipitation typically results in about 13 inches of snow, although that number can vary. If it is 13 inches, that would mean upwards of 6 ½ feet of snow near Alta in the span of a week.
The active pattern is expected to continue. Here are the potential water totals over the next 7 days. We'll continue to fine tune each storm as it gets closer, so expect these numbers to vary a bit.— NWS Salt Lake City (@NWSSaltLakeCity) February 10, 2021
The model projected Fish Lake in central Utah to receive 2 to 3 inches; Brain Head in southern Utah was forecast to receive 1½ to 2 inches. Logan and Soldier Summit were both listed as receiving up to 1 inch of precipitation over the next week.
The weather models mean there will be a need for that jacket or coat over the next few days, but it's a positive outlook for winter recreation and also water conservation.
Full forecasts for areas across Utah can be found at the KSL Weather Center.