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Severe weather? Record heat, chance of snow plays into Utah's week

Published: Wednesday, April 25 2012 5:53 p.m. MDT

John Rowe, from Provo, takes his grandson, Hibben Larsen, on a boat ride on Deer Creek Reservoir, Wednesday, April 25, 2012, in Charleston, Wasatch County.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY  — The Wasatch Front is doing its part to celebrate the first National Severe Weather Week, shattering heat records earlier this week and then bracing for a 35-degree temperature dip on Friday that comes with a slight chance of snow.

While wildly fluctuating temperatures are nothing new to Utahns — if you don't like the weather now, just wait 10 minutes — this week's gyrations are putting nerves to the test.

It was 88 degrees at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Monday, bulldozing a 1934 record of 85 on that date. Tuesday, a new morning high wiped out a record set in 1891.

But on Friday, the high is expected to be only 54, with heavy mountain snow possible and the potential for locally heavy rains. It could even drop a little mixture of rain/snow in the valleys and frost early Saturday.

Earlier this week, Lisa Verzella with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City was tempted to crank up the cool air at her home, but decided to weather out the heat because of the promise of a cold front.

"We do get so warm because of the cold front that is coming in," she said. "It's called the warm before the storm. It gets extra super hot because you have something extra super cold coming."

So, better not plant those tomatoes yet — with Verzella advising the best timeline to follow is that of one established by 30 years of climatology data — May 15 is still your safe bet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency teamed up for the severe weather week declaration for April 22-29.

Both agencies are encouraging people to know their risk, take action, and "be a force of nature" by taking proactive preparedness measures and inspiring others to do the same, according to FEMA's regional administrator, Robin Finegan. 

"Severe weather can strike anywhere, at any time," Finegan said. "While we can't control the forces of nature, we can prepare now to be more resilient in the face of natural disasters."

Last April, tornadoes devastated the central and southern United States, with a total of more than 300 tornadoes claiming hundreds of lives. The historic outbreak was only one of many weather-related tragedies in 2011, which the agencies said holds the record for the greatest number of multibillion-dollar weather disasters in the nation's history.

Utah bore its share of weather-related challenges last year — hit with record-breaking snowpack and subsequent flooding that led to a disaster declaration by Gov. Gary Herbert. Then, in December, hurricane-force winds felled thousands of trees and knocked out power for days for entire chunks of Davis County.

The damage to public infrastructure from winds was estimated to be at least $4 million, while flooding caused $16 million in damage.

Ryan Longman, director of the Division of Emergency Management's Be Ready Utah program, said Utah has its share of flooding, wildfires and other natural disasters, but has been able to avoid the impacts of large-scale severe weather events like other states.

"We don't expect a lot of major catastrophic disasters like in the Midwest with its tornadoes or Florida with hurricanes."

As a result, he said it is tougher for emergency officials to impress upon folks the importance of disaster preparedness. The number of people preparing 72-hour kits is on the uptick, but beyond that, he's afraid people in Utah aren't in the habit of planning longer-term.

"It is our culture of preparedness which saves us, which is our saving grace," he said. "If we were to have an extreme event, for example a major winter storm knocking out our power for a week, we would have serious problems."

Different disasters obviously invoke varying lessons to be learned. He said the residents in Herriman learned about the need to prepare for wildfires after widespread evacuations were ordered when a military training exercise sparked a blaze. In contrast, Davis County residents found out — albeit some too late — what can be done to wind-proof a home or business.

The state's Be Ready Utah program offers specific tips and planning guides meant for the Beehive State for residents and businesses to deal with severe weather events or natural disasters.

In addition, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety offers a ZIP code tool at www.disasterSafety.org to determine the types of severe weather and other natural hazards that may occur in a property owner's community. Each hazard is linked to a list of practical, specific measures home and business owners can take to help minimize the impact of natural disasters such as windstorms, hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, wildfires, severe winter weather and hailstorms.

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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