Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
Tom Smith uses his snowblower to clear his neighbor's driveway on Evergreen Avenue in Salt Lake City on Friday as the snow kept falling.

The monstrous snowstorm that hammered the Wasatch Front Friday — dropping anywhere from a few inches in places to up to 4 feet of snow — helped Utah's drought situation, but it also brought death, power outages, traffic accidents, business closures and other problems to the state.

Approximately 15 inches of snow had fallen at Salt Lake City International Airport by Friday evening, putting the storm — which had moved into Utah after causing mudslides and other mayhem in California — in the record books for several categories. While Provo reported only 2 inches, several Davis County locations had totals in the teens, and Alta notched 47 new inches of snow from the storm.

Other ramifications of the Utah blizzard:

  • Three Utah County snowboarders were missing and presumed dead Friday night after they were caught in a late-afternoon avalanche at Aspen Grove on the east side of Mount Timpanogos.

  • An estimated 70,000 Utah Power customers were without power for varied periods of time.

  • State, county, city and airport snowplows were hard-pressed all day trying to get ahead of the accumulating snow on valley and mountain highways and runways. Canyon roads — including those to popular ski resorts — were closed for hours.

  • Heavy snow, slick roads and speed contributed to almost 1,000 automobile accidents.

  • Retailers, expecting booming business on the day after Christmas, reported mixed results, from good shopping crowds to ghost-town-like aisles.

  • The record book

    According to Mark Eubank, KSL meteorologist in charge, the Salt Lake record for the most snow for any December day had been 12.5 inches, on Dec. 28, 1972. "We broke that one-day record with Friday's storm," Eubank said. By evening the city had already recorded almost 15 inches.

    The standing record for the most snow for a 24-hour period in December is 18.1 inches on Dec. 28 and 29, 1972, he said. The most snowfall for any 24-hour period is 18.4 inches on Oct. 17-18, 1984.

    This storm also shattered the greatest snowfall daily record for a Dec. 26 by producing 10.5 inches at the airport by 5 p.m. Friday. The old record was 4.3 inches in 1936.

    The wet snowfall that caused grief throughout northern Utah also produced the date's greatest precipitation ever, with 0.94 inches as of 5 p.m. Friday. That almost doubled the old record of 0.57 inches, set in 1946.

    "After this storm we're going to be very close, if not at, normal precipitation for the year," fellow KSL meteorologist Grant Wayment said. "It's catching us up to where we need to be."

    The blizzard was a slow-moving low-pressure mass that came up from Southern California, where it caused deadly mudslides. Forecasters said the storm would end by late Friday or early today, with lake-effect snow likely today.

    Power outages were widespread but spotty along the Wasatch Front, Utah Power spokeswoman Barbara Kessler said, primarily due to broken tree limbs and cars sliding off the road into power poles. Power had been restored to about 42,000 by Friday evening, with another 28,000 unfortunates remaining in the dark.

    Friday morning, Sugar House resident Scott Phillips' living room was at 56 degrees and he and his wife were pacing the house wearing wool and fleece coats to keep warm.

    "I have to keep moving to stay warm," he said. "They say you can go down to zero and still be OK. We'll see."

    Kessler said she expected power to be restored to most residents by late Friday or today. In the meantime, emergency officials said residents should keep flashlights and blankets handy and use candles and gas-burning heaters or stoves, employing caution and proper ventilation.

    Accidents and injuries

    Freeways, arterials and side streets alike were snowpacked Friday as snowplow crews frantically tried to keep up with the storm, resulting in numerous accidents. By late evening, more than 975 accidents had been reported statewide to the Utah Highway Patrol. The brunt of those accidents were in Salt Lake and Davis counties, 342 and 310 respectively.

    Area hospitals also had a high number of emergency room visits related to snow-blower injuries. University Medical Center had four cases Friday, including hand lacerations and finger amputations.

    "Do not put your hand in a snow blower," said Anne Brillinger, hospital spokeswoman.

    The evening commute proved to be worse than the morning, officials said, since falling temperatures created even more slippery conditions.

    Several UTA buses slid off the road, and tree branches falling on TRAX lines near 3000 South caused delays.

    Residents and city crews alike found themselves repeatedly shoveling the same place.

    "I and B streets (main thoroughfares in Salt Lake City's Avenues) have been plowed at least a dozen times," Salt Lake director of streets and sanitation Craig Posselli said Friday afternoon. "We're doing the best we can for the amount of snow we've been receiving."

    Officials continually urged motorists to slow down and drive carefully.

    Those relatively few people who went to work routinely found their commute times doubled or tripled. Drivers in Sardine Canyon between Brigham City and Logan reported having to creep along at 10 miles per hour.

    'Epic ski conditions'

    Big Cottonwood Canyon, home to Solitude and Brighton ski resorts, was open intermittently for vehicles with four-wheel-drive or chains; Little Cottonwood Canyon was closed all day because of avalanche danger, keeping many skiers away from Alta and Snowbird.

    "Here we have more than 35 inches and no one's skied it," said Alta information coordinator Mark Jette. "Something like epic ski conditions apply here."

    Another 14-18 inches were expected at Alta overnight, making for a definitely epic day today for those skiers who can make it up the canyon.

    Meanwhile, Salt Lake City International Airport experienced several flight cancellations and delays because of the storm, operations superintendent Alvin Stuart said. Crews operating 24 snowplows, four snowblowers and four sanding vehicles worked continuously on the airport's three runways to keep at least one open at all times.

    "People are arriving and departing, slowly but surely," Stuart said. "Aircraft are landing and taking off. But obviously it's not normal operation."

    After a few hours of tardy employees trying to make their way to work through clogged streets, as well as stores bereft of post-Yule shoppers on what is traditionally one of the busiest days of the year, Salt Lake's Gateway shopping center threw up its hands and closed up shop early on Friday. Several other businesses and government offices along the Wasatch Front did the same, including the State Health Department, Midvale City and Salt Lake County.

    Utah residents who drove to Wendover, Nev., to gamble did not escape the storm's effects, as the border town lost its power.

    "Our casino has backup generators, but the hotel doesn't have power," said Rainbow Hotel & Casino manager Jenny Peebles. "My hands are cold. It is about 55 degrees in my office."

    Emergency actions

    Downtown Salt Lake City had a double whammy. There was not much room to store plowed snow as it piled up in the city. Posselli said his crews, using dump trucks, would haul snow from the downtown area to a snow dump on Indiana Avenue after the storm abated — the first time in three years that has had to be done.

    Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman activated the county's Emergency Operation Center on a limited basis just before 1 p.m.

    "It means we're on the forefront and not playing catchup," said Salt Lake County Fire Capt. Jay Ziolkowski.

    Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson took similar action early Friday afternoon, announcing that the city had set up emergency shelters for folks stuck without power overnight. Those shelters were at the Sorensen Multi-cultural Center and East and West high schools.

    "If the power's going to be out all night, we should be taking action now," Anderson said. The mayor also encouraged those without power to seek out neighbors or friends they could stay with.

    "Let people know what to expect and see if there are people who need shelter," he said.

    Utah Power issued a statement Friday warning people to stay away from downed power lines and not to attempt removing tree branches from power lines on their own.

    Contributing: Lynn Arave, Larry Weist and Elaine Jarvik

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