Heavy snow breaks records as it snarls roads, business

Published: Saturday, Dec. 27 2003 12:00 a.m. MST

Tom Smith uses his snowblower to clear his neighbor's driveway on Evergreen Avenue in Salt Lake City on Friday as the snow kept falling.

Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News

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The monstrous snowstorm that hammered the Wasatch Front Friday — dropping anywhere from a few inches in places to up to 4 feet of snow — helped Utah's drought situation, but it also brought death, power outages, traffic accidents, business closures and other problems to the state.

Approximately 15 inches of snow had fallen at Salt Lake City International Airport by Friday evening, putting the storm — which had moved into Utah after causing mudslides and other mayhem in California — in the record books for several categories. While Provo reported only 2 inches, several Davis County locations had totals in the teens, and Alta notched 47 new inches of snow from the storm.

Other ramifications of the Utah blizzard:

  • Three Utah County snowboarders were missing and presumed dead Friday night after they were caught in a late-afternoon avalanche at Aspen Grove on the east side of Mount Timpanogos.

  • An estimated 70,000 Utah Power customers were without power for varied periods of time.

  • State, county, city and airport snowplows were hard-pressed all day trying to get ahead of the accumulating snow on valley and mountain highways and runways. Canyon roads — including those to popular ski resorts — were closed for hours.

  • Heavy snow, slick roads and speed contributed to almost 1,000 automobile accidents.

  • Retailers, expecting booming business on the day after Christmas, reported mixed results, from good shopping crowds to ghost-town-like aisles.

    The record book

    According to Mark Eubank, KSL meteorologist in charge, the Salt Lake record for the most snow for any December day had been 12.5 inches, on Dec. 28, 1972. "We broke that one-day record with Friday's storm," Eubank said. By evening the city had already recorded almost 15 inches.

    The standing record for the most snow for a 24-hour period in December is 18.1 inches on Dec. 28 and 29, 1972, he said. The most snowfall for any 24-hour period is 18.4 inches on Oct. 17-18, 1984.

    This storm also shattered the greatest snowfall daily record for a Dec. 26 by producing 10.5 inches at the airport by 5 p.m. Friday. The old record was 4.3 inches in 1936.

    The wet snowfall that caused grief throughout northern Utah also produced the date's greatest precipitation ever, with 0.94 inches as of 5 p.m. Friday. That almost doubled the old record of 0.57 inches, set in 1946.

    "After this storm we're going to be very close, if not at, normal precipitation for the year," fellow KSL meteorologist Grant Wayment said. "It's catching us up to where we need to be."

    The blizzard was a slow-moving low-pressure mass that came up from Southern California, where it caused deadly mudslides. Forecasters said the storm would end by late Friday or early today, with lake-effect snow likely today.

    Power outages were widespread but spotty along the Wasatch Front, Utah Power spokeswoman Barbara Kessler said, primarily due to broken tree limbs and cars sliding off the road into power poles. Power had been restored to about 42,000 by Friday evening, with another 28,000 unfortunates remaining in the dark.

    Friday morning, Sugar House resident Scott Phillips' living room was at 56 degrees and he and his wife were pacing the house wearing wool and fleece coats to keep warm.

    "I have to keep moving to stay warm," he said. "They say you can go down to zero and still be OK. We'll see."

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