LEHI Minutes into the snowy, wind-whipped commute to his home in Lehi on Feb. 13, Christopher Yadon knew he was in for a long night. He couldn't see past his windshield and his two-wheel drive was having trouble navigating the rapidly accumulating snowdrifts.
His first thought: "I'm not the only one who's having a hard time getting home tonight."
As a stake president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he moved to mobilize the resources at his disposal: an army of bishops and a couple of well-heated chapels.
He wasn't the only one with that idea. Across Utah County, where the storm snarled traffic to a standstill, leaving children stranded at school and commuters to bunk up in grocery stores, several church buildings were opened up to provide refuge from the freezing winds.
President Yadon mobilized a calling tree to let members of the Lehi Traverse Mountain Stake, many of whom weren't able to make it home because of road closures, know that the church buildings were available for shelter. In other areas, however, police spread the word to stranded motorists.
Police transformed the church on Lehi Center Street into a command center, where they coordinated rescue efforts. The church was a warm relief to elementary-school children whose bus got stuck in a snowdrift.
In Saratoga Springs, police asked church members to unlock the church on Redwood Road, which was closed to traffic just north of the building.
Larry Johnson, who lives just a few blocks away from the Redwood Road chapel, spent the evening entertaining children and adults who couldn't make the drive to their homes. Johnson popped in a Disney movie to keep the half-dozen children staying at the church occupied. The Relief Society provided hot chocolate and snacks.
"Church buildings are ideal for this type of situation," he said. "They have great facilities bathrooms, a gymnasium, little rooms where you can turn on a video."
Most church buildings are even equipped with power generators.
Even though Joseph Server, first counselor for the Saratoga Springs Utah Stake, described last week's weather as a "genuine disaster," he said transforming the church into an emergency shelter was fairly simple. The stake, like most others, has an emergency-preparedness plan. Members at both a stake and ward level are called to plan for and head up disaster relief efforts."The members are very open to service so it makes things easy to run," he said. "When an opportunity like this comes, it just seems they jump to do whatever they can."