Utah's wacky weather brings fire and flood alerts

Published: Saturday, May 7 2011 9:36 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY  — Utah's wild and wacky weather this spring has dueling warnings in effect from the National Weather Service, with "explosive fire" potential a condition for much of southern Utah and flooding troubles predicted for Uintah and Cache counties.

"Red Flag" warnings are in effect through 9 p.m. Sunday for southern San Juan County and the Henry Mountains and Natural Bridges National Monument below 6,500 feet. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell are under the same alert because of gusty winds, low humidity and dry vegetation.

Those conditions have merged to create "critical" fire weather.

In contrast, a flood advisory has been issued for the Green River near Jensen in Uintah County, where the forecast predicts the river will continue to rise over the weekend. It is anticipated it will exceed its banks late Sunday and approach flood stage by Wednesday afternoon.

The service is warning motorists to refrain from driving through flooded areas, noting that 2 feet of water is enough to float most vehicles. People should stay away from flooded areas and the riverbanks as well because they may be unstable.

Farther north, the Blacksmith Fork River in Cache County will reach flood stage between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. Sunday morning, according to the service.  Housing developments in the Blacksmith Fork Canyon will be impacted, as well homes at the river's confluence with the Logan River.

The flood warning is in effect through noon Tuesday.

Rick Williams, Cache County's Emergency Management director, said no flooding was reported in the area by Saturday night, but sheriff's deputies are patrolling the river 24 hours a day looking for problem areas.

"There's no property damage at all right now," he said late Saturday, but added, "We're at the mercy of Mother Nature. If we have another rain on snowmelt event like we had a couple weeks ago, we could have some problems."

Property owners are prepared, however, he said, with summer cabins that have been sandbagged for some time. Other flood control measures have been put in place along the banks, including water-deflecting riprap, or rocks.

Meanwhile, anywhere from 14 inches to 2 feet of snow is expected to fall overnight Sunday into mid-Monday in the Wasatch and western Uinta mountains at elevations about 8,000 feet, adding to snowpack twice what the mountains normally get. Rain that could come early Sunday morning will add to the snowmelt caused by the warmer weather on Saturday.

Record snowpack in many regions of the state — coupled with a narrow snowmelt season  — prompted Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday to warn Utahns that acute flooding is imminent.

Residents should keep informed through the news and via Twitter alerts offered through cities where available and at utahemergencyinfo.com and bereadyutah.gov

Information can also be accessed by calling 2-1-1.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com Twitter: amyjoi16

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