Warnings, advisories issued ahead of winter storm headed toward Utah

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A post-Halloween winter storm headed toward Utah is looking a little scarier than originally forecast, though it may be a treat for outdoor recreationists and state water managers alike.

The National Weather Service on Tuesday issued a winter storm warning for mountainous parts of southern Utah, as well as winter weather advisories for many other parts of the state for a storm that could provide more than a foot of snow in the mountains between Wednesday and Thursday.

KSL meteorologist Matt Johnson explains that precipitation will begin to fall as a cold front moves into the state from the Pacific Northwest on Wednesday morning, providing a mixture of valley rain and mountain snow in the Wasatch Front and northern Utah.

"But some of this rain may not hit the ground because there's so much dry air that's moving in (Tuesday)," he said. "However, the model is still (indicating precipitation). We'll have to watch for it."

The storm's "main event" is expected in the afternoon, pushing more rain in the valleys that will slowly transition to snow. The storm is expected to linger into Thursday before clearing out by Friday.

A high wind warning remains in effect for most of western Utah through 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Warnings and advisories

The winter storm warning, which takes effect at noon Wednesday, focuses on Utah's southern mountains, including the communities of Alton and Brian Head. The agency warns that 9 to 14 inches of snow are currently forecast to fall in the area between Wednesday afternoon and the end of Thursday in addition to wind gusts up to 50 mph, which may make traveling in the region "very difficult."

"If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency," the alert states.

The weather service's other advisories take effect as early as 6 a.m. Wednesday, closer to when the storm first arrives in the state.

Most of the Wasatch Mountain areas are currently forecast to receive another 5 to 10 inches Wednesday and Thursday, though mountain spots south of I-80 may receive 8 to 14 inches during that span. In both cases, "locally higher amounts" may occur; for example, KSL Weather models currently indicate Alta may receive 18 inches of snow from the storm, Johnson said.

The La Sal and Abajo ranges are also forecast to receive 5 to 10 inches, with some areas possibly receiving up to a foot of snow or more, according to the weather service. The advisories state another 8 to 16 inches are expected in the Western Uinta Mountains, Wasatch Plateau/Book Cliffs and central mountains, including places like Cove Fort, Fish Lake, Joes Valley, Scofield and the Mirror Lake Highway.

Meanwhile, some valley areas may receive decent snow accumulations Wednesday and Thursday. The weather service lists central and southern Utah communities like Beaver, Bryce Canyon City, Cedar City, Circleville, Delta, Fillmore, Milford, Nephi and Panguitch in another advisory, where 2 to 6 inches of snow are forecast. "Higher elevation areas" of the valleys could receive 6 to 12 inches, the weather service notes.

Communities along the Wasatch Front may receive anywhere from a trace of snow to an inch or two, while communities in the Wasatch Back may receive 2 to 7 inches, Johnson adds.

Another storm is expected to arrive in northern Utah this weekend. Full seven-day forecasts for areas across Utah can be found online, at the KSL Weather Center.

Storm impact

This week's storm comes as some resorts are ready to open. Brian Head Resort announced Monday on Facebook that it will open on Friday just from the snow it received in October and snowmaking operations over the past few weeks. Even with the resorts not ready to open yet, many skiers also took to the slopes after this season's first major storm.

But the weather service warns that driving may be difficult in all mountain areas over the next few days.

"Winter driving conditions are expected, especially for seasonal routes and mountain passes," the weather service wrote in its advisories. "Backcountry access will become treacherous and should be taken into consideration for hikers, hunters and other recreators. Be prepared for possible traction restrictions."

The Utah Department of Transportation also issued a weather alert that lasts into Thursday. It urges drivers to "use caution" over the next few days, noting that rain and high-elevation snowfall will begin in northern Utah on Wednesday morning before reaching central Utah by midday and southern Utah by the evening.

"In general, the heaviest snow will come between midday Wednesday through Wednesday night," the alert states. "Snowfall will trend lighter by Thursday morning, with a few snow showers lingering into midday Thursday. Rain/snow will persist longest over the I-15 corridor in southern and south-central Utah."

Agency officials say the roads most likely to be impacted Wednesday and Thursday are:

  • I-15: Black Ridge to Nephi
  • I-70: I-15 Junction to Fremont Junction
  • I-80: Parleys Summit to Wyoming border
  • U.S. 6: Spanish Fork Canyon to U.S. 191
  • U.S. 40: I-80 Junction to Pinion Ridge
  • U.S. 89: Mt. Carmel Junction to Idaho border
  • U.S. 50: Kings Canyon, Skull Rock Pass, Scipio to Salina
  • U.S. 189: Provo Canyon to Heber City
  • U.S. 191: Blanding to Monticello, Indian Canyon Summit, U.S. 191 Summit North of Vernal
  • State Route 14
  • State Route 20
  • State Route 31: Skyline
  • State Route 39: Monte Cristo
  • State Route 46: La Sal Divide
  • State Route 143: Brian Head
  • State Route 150: Bald Mountain Pass
  • State Route 153: Puffer Lake
  • State Route 190: Big Cottonwood Canyon
  • State Route 210: Little Cottonwood Canyon
  • State Route 224: Kimball Junction to Park City; Empire Pass

The storm also figures to tack onto the state's snowpack, which remains above-average heading into November because of the first snowstorm of the season. Utah's snowpack basins are listed between 103% and 6,100%, according to Natural Resources Conservation Service data on Tuesday.

Snowpack collection and runoff account for about 95% of Utah's water supply.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.


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