Winter wreaked havoc on the highways Wednesday as motorists were caught in the aftermath of hundreds of crashes, slide-offs and even road closures along the Wasatch Front.
On state roads across Utah, Highway Patrol troopers responded to 235 accidents. Including city streets, officials blamed brash drivers and wintry conditions for nearly 550 accidents 70 on Orem and Provo streets and 90 in Weber County. One fatality was reported.
"I think every cop on the Wasatch Front is going nuts," Weber County Sheriff's Capt. Klint Anderson said Wednesday. "People are out here driving like it's June or July."
A heavy snow warning was in effect for most of the day and will continue until 11 a.m. today as a significant cold front completes its venture across the state. The chill could be felt everywhere, said National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Smith. Even St. George dropped into the 40s.
"It hasn't been all that bad of a winter," he said. "So this sort of thing catches people off guard."
Off guard was the truth, as some commuters spent nearly three hours on the road, surpassing a usual 30-minute drive time. Roads were curdled with accidents, and snow was falling faster than crews could clear it away. The random roadways that got salted still froze and ended up as ice rinks as the day went on.
I-80 westbound in Tooele County was closed for two hours Wednesday because of slick road conditions and several crashes. Northbound I-15 from 500 South in Bountiful to Farmington was shut down for about three hours because of a series of crashes involving nearly 45 cars.
"There were about 15 separate crashes up and down there," Utah Highway Patrol trooper Jeff Nigbur said.
Among the numerous accidents Wednesday, 4-year-old Zachary Tippetts was killed on westbound I-80 near Lakepoint when his mother's vehicle lost control, Nigbur said.
"It rolled off the left side of the road and landed on its top," he said. Snow- and ice-covered roads contributed to the accident. Nigbur said the child, driver and one other passenger were not wearing seat belts.
Near Willard Bay in Box Elder County, I-15 was closed for at least an hour because of the slick road conditions. Traffic in that area was rerouted to U.S. 89, and surface streets throughout northern Utah were forced into overload.
"We had two semis jack-knifed, and they were blocking the freeway," Nigbur said. "We had multiple crashes, so we were trying to get them off the road so the plows could get through."
Near the town of Uintah, a 17-year-old boy was hospitalized when the pickup he was driving collided head-on with a school bus. Weber County sheriff's deputies said the boy was plowing driveways in a pickup equipped with a snow blade.
"As he came around a corner, he swung wide because of the blade and slid into an oncoming school bus," said Weber County Sheriff's Capt. Klint Anderson. "It was a head-on collision, and it pinned the young man, who had to be extricated."
Anderson said 36 students headed to Bonneville High School in Washington Terrace were on board the bus when it crashed. They were not injured, and another bus was sent to pick them up from the accident scene. The 17-year-old driver of the pickup was taken to Ogden Regional Medical Center, where he was treated for a cut on his forehead and a broken wrist.
Smith said Wednesday's weather was as close to normal as one can expect from in the middle of February.
"The cold front moved all the way through the state, so everyone has seen a cool-down," he said. Salt Lake City temperatures were slightly colder than normal with the added wind chill factored in. Not much snow accumulated in the capital city as winds blew it elsewhere, Smith said.
Areas of northern Utah received up to 10 inches of snow. And Snowbasin reported more than 14 inches. Lake-effect snow is expected to bring more to the Wasatch Front overnight and throughout the morning today. Some areas can expect up to 7 inches.
As the storm hit Utah County and roads disappeared under layers of snow, drivers experienced varying conditions, depending on where they were. While Provo and Orem police reported at least 70 accidents on the roads by 6:30 p.m., Pleasant Grove only had two. None of the cities reported major injuries in any of the accidents.
"Roads were snowy, but it wasn't the incredibly icy, slick conditions that we normally get," said Utah County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Cannon.
Nevertheless, by the end of the rush-hour commute, 13 vehicles slid off the freeway, and at least seven injuries were reported by the Utah Highway Patrol in Utah County. On city streets across the county, police reported up to 100 minor accidents with no major injuries.
Tooele County sheriff's dispatchers reported 23 accidents and Weber County witnessed had about 90. Salt Lake City police reported 60 accidents on city streets, all caused by inclement weather and incompetent drivers. Of those, 17 involved injuries. In all, officials reported more than 550 accidents statewide, some involving only one car.
Though slippery roads make accidents a common occurrence, Cannon said wintry conditions aren't solely to blame.Comment on this story
"I'm a believer that every accident is preventable if people will work to anticipate the conditions," he said. "I think if people just slow down and increase their following distance, they'll be able to anticipate and plan for any accidents."Smith said cold air will settle in for the day, causing a colder-than-average night tonight and low temperatures continuing through Friday. Another winter storm system is expected for Saturday night and Sunday, bringing a 50 percent chance of snow.
Contributing: Amy Chaote