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Raging blizzard short on snow

Storm still leaves frozen roads to plague drivers

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 24 2010 10:42 p.m. MST

Newly fallen snow covers the mountains of the Salt Lake Valley on Wednesday following Tuesday night's snowstorm.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Below-freezing temperatures and an increasingly hazy sky are expected through Saturday as a high pressure system traps dirty air and temperatures.

Frozen roads that slowed freeway traffic throughout the day Wednesday and contributed to a pileup on I-215 in the afternoon are also expected to be the norm for holiday travel in the aftermath of the fast-moving blizzard that blew through northern Utah Tuesday evening.

Whether the warnings leading up to Tuesday's storm were helpful or hype depends on the point of view. Twitter and Facebook were among the social media alive with storm chatter on Tuesday.

UDOT spokesman Adan Carrillo said 3,000 people now follow UDOT on Twitter with an additional 542 on Facebook. UDOT's emergency center began sending tweets at least every 15 minutes when Tuesday's storm arrived right on schedule Tuesday afternoon.

"We got what we expected," Carillo said. "The word got out so efficiently that people were actually off the roadway to allow the plow guys to do their job more efficiently."

Tuesday's storm did not reach the limits of its forecasted potential. "The headline on today's paper should be about the weather service way overplaying yesterday's storm," said Deseret News reader Robert Gardiner, in an e-mail.

But the forecasting did what it was supposed to, said National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Seaman.

"For the public, a blizzard may mean 2 feet of snow and being hunkered down for days. But that's not exactly what a blizzard means. It means you're going to have a period of snow with very windy conditions," which is what northern Utah saw Tuesday during the afternoon commute — and on a high-travel day before Thanksgiving. "We got the word out, and we didn't have as many problems," Seaman said. Most Wasatch Front areas saw 3 to 6 inches of snow that fell with wind in the 20-30 mph range.

"The storm hit fairly hard up north. It just kind of got lighter down here south of Salt Lake and into Utah County," said Utah Highway Patrol trooper Todd Johnson. By 9 p.m. Tuesday, the UHP had responded to seven injury crashes, 88 with property damage and had reports of 116 motorists who slid off the road or needed other assistance. Two UHP vehicles were hit or damaged, though no troopers were injured, the UHP said.

"I think it turned out very well," Johnson said of the forecasting and effect on traffic late Tuesday. "I think because of the preparation, the information, that people did listen and those that could stay off the road did." That made conditions safer for people who did have to travel, Johnson said.

"I think it's just getting the information out there rather than underplay it and have the storm turn out worse," Johnson said.

Slush and snow on I-215 West northbound near 4800 West caused five separate accidents Wednesday afternoon, Johnson said. One vehicle slid off the road just after noon and was promptly followed by four other accidents that occurred in the same area within minutes.

In total, there was two separate two-car accidents, a three-car accident and one crash involving seven vehicles. "The first car sounded like it went all the way off the road and traffic was slowing down and people were just sliding coming in," he said.

Though some of the crashes were relatively minor, nine people were transported to the hospital, two with critical injuries and one in serious condition.

"There are some pretty good collisions," Johnson said.

UDOT warns that while the snowfall has ended over much of I-15 and I-70, the road surfaces remain slick in many areas. UDOT urges motorists to slow down and allow extra stopping distance. Many surface streets were snow packed Wednesday morning, as well.

Rocky Mountain Power said most reported power outages are in the northern part of the state and into Idaho. In Tremonton, 527 customers were without power, with 208 outages in the Salt Lake area.

The National Weather Service said freezing temperatures and high pressure mean inversion and bad air conditions will continue to build through Friday or Saturday with more snow in the forecast for Sunday. "It's going to take a pretty good event to clear it out." Seaman said. "Sunday should clear it out."

Contributing: Randall Jeppesen, Courtney Orton and Andrew Adams.

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com

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