Winter storm makes for messy commute

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10 2013 10:21 p.m. MST

Commuters drive on I-80 in the snowstorm in Salt Lake County on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The onslaught of a snowstorm plagued commuters across the state Thursday evening, and with several inches of snow on the ground, the bout isn't over yet.

Rapidly accumulating snow and limited visibility triggered accidents statewide, which were still piling up Thursday night. Between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., 59 property damage accidents were reported in Salt Lake County, along with one injury accident. Utah County saw 14 property damage accidents, and no injury accidents, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Utah Highway Patrol reported drivers waiting for help on the freeway shoulder triggered secondary accidents and called on anyone caught in minor crashes throughout the rest of the storm to exit the freeway before calling 911.

UHP Cpl. Todd Johnson said the safest option for all involved is to move off the freeway, if possible. In a serious crash or an accident with injuries, drivers should just move out of the way of traffic and call for help.

"Troopers are going to be busy. They're going from crash to crash, so some people are going to have to wait awhile," Johnson said. "Then they'll be out of harm's way. … Also, when troopers arrive, or a tow truck, it's just easier to manage if it's off an exit. It prevents further problems."

The best way to prevent a weather-related accident is perhaps the simplest, Johnson said: Slow down.

"How much should they reduce (speed)? Whatever it takes to keep that vehicle moving safely down the road," he said. "Also, increase following distances. It's going to take you longer to stop if you need to slow your vehicle down."

Utah Department of Transportation issued an alert Thursday advising drivers of the statewide snow event, warning that the heaviest road snow would likely hit between Layton and Point of the Mountain, lasting through the Friday morning commute.

UDOT has real-time information available for drivers on its website, smart phone app and social media.

The storm prompted early closures Thursday of all Salt Lake City public libraries, which shut their doors at 7 p.m. Classes at Ogden-Weber Applied Technical College were canceled Thursday night, as were performances at the Ogden Symphony.

As of press time, no school closures had been issued for Friday. 

Snowfall and dropping temperatures are expected to  continue through Saturday. Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said the three-day storm will drop between 4 inches and 8 inches of snow in the northern Utah valleys, with 8-12 inches possible along the benches.

While much of the snowfall was expected through Friday morning, below-freezing temperatures are expected to persist into Saturday. Drivers Friday should also beware of drifting snow, McInerney warned.

"This is significantly going to impact travel across much of the state," he said in a video forecast.

Up to 2 feet of new snow is possible in the mountains and backcountry. 

While deep, fresh powder will enhance skiing across the state, increased avalanche danger is also a major concern. Little Cottonwood Canyon is scheduled to close to all traffic starting at 6 a.m. Friday for avalanche control. It is scheduled to reopen after 8:30 a.m.

The powerful storm will also force out heavy inversion that has plagued the state for 10 days, McInerney said. 

"We've been breathing some pretty bad air," he said. "It should be improved significantly."

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @McKenzieRomero

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