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What to expect as major winter storm brings wind, snow back to Utah

Snow is piled high in Suncrest in Draper on Jan. 18. Snow returns to the Wasatch Front Tuesday, with the potential to deliver 8 to 16 inches over the next few days.

Snow is piled high in Suncrest in Draper on Jan. 18. Snow returns to the Wasatch Front Tuesday, with the potential to deliver 8 to 16 inches over the next few days. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly all of Utah is included in a winter storm warning ahead of a "major winter storm" that can potentially deliver up to a foot of snow or more in some valley communities and multiple feet of snow in the mountains Tuesday afternoon through Thursday morning.

Most areas not included in a warning are listed under a winter weather advisory. Meanwhile, a high wind warning has also been issued for several places in southern Utah, where gusts up to 65 to 70 mph are likely Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning.

Storm timing

The storm is arriving from the Pacific Northwest. Precipitation began with light rain along the Wasatch Front Tuesday morning in addition to mountain snow. Some bench areas began receiving snow by about 2 p.m. Tuesday, as the rain picked up in intensity in the valleys.

KSL meteorologist Kristen Van Dyke said the valley rain will turn to snow once a cold front arrives later in the day.

"We'll have rain likely developing along the Wasatch Front through the afternoon. At some point between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., we go from rain to heavy snow — that will quickly accumulate on roads," she said. "When that transition happens, a lot of times you see those squall lines where there are whiteout conditions; you have super heavy, dense snow coming down that sticks and makes it tough to see. That could be happening when so many people are on the roads."

A band of snow is expected to cross into southwestern Utah by early Wednesday, while it continues to fall in northern Utah. Scattered showers are expected throughout Wednesday and into Thursday before it finally clears up.

"So this is going to provide tons of time for the snow totals to go up," Van Dyke said.

Snow totals

The many winter storm warnings and advisories offer a window into how much snow is expected from this storm.

Mountains

  • 2 to 3 feet of snow in the Wasatch Mountains. Areas closer to the Bear River Range and the Cottonwood canyons may even receive over 40 inches of snow.
  • 1 to 2 feet of snow in the southern mountains. Strong wind gusts of up to 75 mph are expected to result in drifting snow, as well.
  • 1 to 2 feet of snow is also expected in the Wasatch Plateau and the central mountains, including areas like Cove Fort, Fish Lake and Joes Valley.
  • Close to 1 to 2 feet of snow in the La Sal and Abajo mountains, also with wind gusts up to 60 mph.

Valleys and backcountries

Snow totals in the valleys may shift based on when the rain transitions to snow Tuesday. However, the weather service still projects:

  • 1 to 2 feet of snow in areas like Park City, Heber City and Huntsville.
  • 8 to 16 inches of snow in the Tooele Valley and valleys along the Wasatch Front, from Ogden through Payson. The higher snow totals are expected along the benches.
  • 6 to 12 inches of snow in northern Utah, including Brigham City and Logan. The same goes for areas in central Utah like Millard and Juab counties, and the Sanpete Valley, and areas in southwest Utah, such as Beaver, Cedar City and Milford.
  • 5 to 10 inches of snow in the West Desert, including by Park Valley and Wendover.
  • 4 to 8 inches of snow in the western Uinta Basin and Sevier Valley. Areas close to Bryce Canyon may also receive 4 to 8 inches.
  • 4 to 10 inches of snow in Springdale and parts of Zion National Park. Nearby communities like Rockville and Virgin may receive 1 to 4 inches of snow, too.
  • 3 to 6 inches in the eastern Uinta Basin, including Ballard and Vernal.
  • 2 to 5 inches by Kanab and Escalante — with totals nearing 8 inches possible in the Glendale and Orderville areas. The same goes for parts of southeast Utah and the state's Castle Country in central Utah, including Blanding, Emery, Dead Horse Point State Park and Price.

Storm impact

If you can find a way to leave work early Tuesday, do it, Van Dyke suggests, because of the expected messiness on the roads.

The Utah Highway Patrol, the Utah Department of Transportation and even Utah Gov. Spencer Cox advise the same, adding the option of staying at home Wednesday, if possible.

"If you can, we encourage you to work remotely tomorrow," Cox tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

UDOT issued a road weather alert that remains in place through Thursday morning.

"Snow will be heavy at times and continue statewide Tuesday night and Wednesday before tapering off and ending Wednesday night," the alert states. "Along the Wasatch Front, the Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning commutes look to be highly impacted."

UDOT lists almost every major road in the state is listed in "high" or "moderate" caution from Logan to Cedar City through Thursday morning. Road restrictions are likely in the Cottonwood and Parleys canyons.

The agency also issued a backcountry closure in parts of Little Cottonwood Canyon Tuesday over avalanche danger. The Utah Avalanche Center advises that overall avalanche danger may increase as snow begins to accumulate Tuesday.

Schools

The snow could lead to school delays or closures; however, it's too early to know if those will be issued. For example, Ben Horsley, spokesman for the Granite School District, explained on KSL NewsRadio's "Dave and Dujanovic" that the district is monitoring conditions before it makes any decisions.

"We will watch and monitor as it plays out, and what impact it will have (on) our operations," he said. "One of the first things we look at is, can we actually get our people there safely? Can we operate our buses? Can we get things moving? Are the roads clear enough? … We're going to have to see how it plays out and how well plows are able to keep up."

Utah snowpack

Meanwhile, any additional snow will only tack onto the above-average snowpack this season. Utah's statewide snowpack entered Tuesday at 16.6 inches of water, which is 146% of the normal for the final week of February.

Candice Hasenyager, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, pointed out Tuesday that this year's snowpack won't get Utah out of its drought struggles but storms like this are significantly chipping away at them.

It's why she sees the 2023 water year as very important.

"This is our opportunity year. In order to take full advantage of our plentiful snowpack, we must continue to use our water wisely," she said in a statement. "By using less water, we will become more drought resilient."

Full seven-day forecasts for areas across Utah can be found online, at the KSL Weather Center.

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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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