Snow blankets Utah as winter storms pound West
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Heavy snowfall in Utah triggered a rare snow day for many students Wednesday, delayed government operations and snarled morning commutes as winter storms continued to slam the western U.S.
Most parts of the Salt Lake City area received 10-15 inches (25-38 centimeters) of snow by midmorning Wednesday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Seaman. Several more inches were expected through Wednesday night in one of the state’s biggest storms in recent years, Seaman said.
Nonessential state workers were given until noon to get to work, Gov. Gary Herbert announced, and the University of Utah and Westminster College in Salt Lake City closed its campuses.
Officials urged people to delay commutes or work from home as snow plows cleared snowy and icy roads. By midmorning, the Utah Highway Patrol had reported 115 crashes.
The state’s ski resorts trumpeted a huge dump of more than 2 feet (61 centimeters) of mountain snow with Twitter pictures of skiers covered in powder, but would-be skiers and snowboarders struggled to traverse snow-covered roads to make it to the resorts.
The Little Cottonwood Canyon road leading to Alta and Snowbird ski resorts was closed Wednesday morning and chains or four-wheel drive were required to make it up the Big Cottonwood Canyon, home to Brighton and Solitude resorts.
Brighton has recorded 63 inches (160 centimeters) of snow since Sunday, Seaman said.
The storm that hit Utah is the same one that has been pounding the West for several days, bringing a surprise dusting to peaks overlooking San Francisco — the city’s first notable snow in eight years.
In California, Interstate 15 was closed in the Mojave Desert near the Nevada state line due to icy conditions. In northern Arizona, snowfall closed schools and kept snow plow operators busy.
Dangerously cold temperatures set in across the Northern Plains, with a forecast high of 4 below zero on Wednesday in Montana’s largest city, Billings. In Glasgow, Montana, about 60 miles from the Canadian border, temperatures were expected to drop to 26 below zero by Thursday morning.
The snow day school cancellations in the Salt Lake City metro area were a highly uncommon occurrence in a state that is accustomed to dealing with winter snow.
Jordan School District in the southwestern part of the Salt Lake City metro area hadn’t cancelled classes since the mid-1990s, district spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The cancellations were the first ever in Utah’s Canyons School District, which was created in 2009, said district spokesman Jeff Haney. Many of the district’s 34,000 students that attend 48 schools in the southeast part of the Salt Lake City metro area joyously made snow forts at home and basked in the unexpected day off.
The district usually deals with typical Utah winter storms to avoid missing key class time, but the ice icy conditions combined with the heavy snow made it too dangerous for buses, Haney said.
“It is incredibly rare,” Haney said.