SALT LAKE CITY — With dangerous roads, debilitating temperatures, heavy inversions and a storm named Gandolf, Utahns are in for one of the most bitter winters in memory.
And for the moment, there is no end in sight.
Already reeling from a string of record low temperatures, many residents along the Wasatch Front spent the weekend recovering from the aftermath of Gandolf, which caused 573 reported vehicle accidents on Thursday and Friday in areas surrounding the main corridor of I-15.
Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for the state's Division of Emergency Management, said the number of accidents is especially high considering that the three major storms in 2011 combined for only 253 reported accidents.
"What was unique about this snowstorm was the extreme cold that came with it. A lot of the time in Utah, the snow melts quickly and the roads aren't as treacherous any more," Dougherty said. "Also, the storm hit right at commute time, when 100,000 people were on the roads. That created a lot of problems."
For all the havoc it wreaked with daily commuters, winter storm Gandolf did little more than temporarily clear up the inversion, which experts say may return to pre-storm levels and pick up more strength the longer it stays.
"Keep in mind that the air quality will continue to get worse so long as the inversion is in place," said Randy Graham, a Utah-based meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "People may need to continue to monitor their outdoor activities. Of course, with the cold temperatures they shouldn't need too much convincing to stay inside."
Salt Lake City has experienced record-low temperatures in eight of the 13 days since the New Year holiday. On Monday alone, several others cities experienced record lows, including Alpine (minus-8), Bountiful (minus-3), Cedar City (minus-17) and Price (minus-8).
The low of minus-2 in Salt Lake City on Monday was the coldest low temperature in the city in five years, said KSL meteorologist Kevin Eubank. Salt Lake City's high temperature Monday was just 15 and Tuesday's forecast is only a tiny bit better — 16 degrees with a low temperature of 4 degrees. It is expected to warm up to a high of 19 degrees on Wednesday and 21 degrees on Friday along the Wasatch Front with lows remaining in the single digits. But the temperatures won't rise above that through the weekend.
Graham said more typical winter weather may be on the way, but it's not likely to arrive before the end of the month.
"As you get into February, the sunlight will be more intense, making it easier to break through the inversion," he said.
The recent storms had less of an effect on air travelers in Utah. Travel in and out of the Salt Lake City International Airport was mostly business as usual, said airport spokeswoman Barbara Gann.
"We put strong emphasis on snow and ice removal at the airport," she said, noting that preparation begins in early fall. "We call it Snow School (for the crews receiving training), and we prepare the logistics and equipment well in advance."
Staying warm in these cold temperatures can be a challenge, especially if the power goes out. Salt Lake fire spokesman Jasen Asay said there are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to keeping a home warm without power.
It's important to close off areas where the cold air is getting in by putting towels or clothes over windows and along cracks in doors, Asay said.
Closing doors to unused rooms helps. Even putting a tent in a front room could work.
“The body heat that you produce can’t really leave that much of the tent, so that’s good, but the downside is you have to stay in the tent the whole time,” he said.
Curtains in the windows can help keep the cold air from coming in, but if the window is facing the sun, the curtains should be left open so the sun can come into the house, he said.
Asay said don’t use propane or kerosene heaters in the home.
“Not only do these types of heaters produce a lot of carbon monoxide that could prove dangerous, even fatal if the gas isn’t vented out of the home, but they also have the potential of spilling, which could cause an unwanted fire in the home,” Asay said.
The use of a gas or wood burning fireplace is a good alternative, he said, but there are a few precautions to take, including opening the flue and burning safe materials.
Though using an oven to heat a home is not encouraged, “if you’re in the kitchen and you don’t have power and your oven works and you’re baking cookies or something, that’s a good way to heat the room that you’re in,” Asay said.
If it’s still cold inside the house, wearing layers of clothing is recommended, as well as wearing a hat, since a large amount of body heat is lost through our heads.
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