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In our opinion: Surviving January's weather was a shared effort; month brought good and bad

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Wintertime, and the living is not easy — not when near-record snowfall in January blanketed benches and valleys and made the daily commute and simple rounds about the neighborhood an arduous adventure.

It was a harsh month, but one people managed to survive with a renewed appreciation for nature's ability to turn brutal, and for the collective work of all of those who are tasked with seeing to it that vital systems continue to function under the onslaught.

For the most part, public works and transportation departments did what they are expected to do. Roads were plowed, although not always quickly. The relentless nature of the two major storm fronts that assaulted nearly the entire state made it hard for crews to keep up. Budgets were taxed, but most city and county departments were up to the fiscal task and remain able to repeat the performance should nature offer an encore.

The Utah Department of Transportation spent more than $15 million, or about 70 percent of its snow-removal budget, during January. A chunk of that was disbursed as a result of a rare freezing rain storm, dealt like a wildcard between the two big snowfalls.

UDOT planners say when it comes to how much to put away for seasonal snow removal, it's something of a guessing game. It appears this year they guessed right.

There were relatively few school closures, power outages or storm-related calamities. That's despite the fact that the amount of snow received in powerful bursts may have crippled less-prepared communities. Weather patterns may fluctuate, but it's good to know the Wasatch Front is generally well-served by agencies that have made it a priority to respond quickly and effectively when a leaden front bears down on the Wasatch.

Also on the bright side, the abundant precipitation lessens the concern over potential drought problems in most locations. Ironically, the nature of the January storms — "upside down" in the phrase of meteorologists — left relatively more snow in valleys than on mountaintops. Even so, most regions are approaching normal snowpack levels. Given a benevolent spring, the area should bypass a crisis of flooding from excessive runoff.

In addition to the smothering snow, January also left northern valleys with an inversion that trapped foul air in lower elevation areas for days on end. That episode has led to a reinvigorated debate over Utah's general air quality — an issue that deserves the continuing attention of policy makers long after the January snow melts away.

In the end, while many Utahns would prefer to take the "greatest snow on Earth" with a bit more moderation, they now can look forward to the coming solstice of spring with a bit more enthusiasm.

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