Snow squall, avalanche conditions cause chaos on roads as Utah breaks snowfall record
While some celebrated a new record set Friday, storms created dangerous driving and even skiing conditions.
Fresh off more than a foot of new snow and a new record for snowpack totals, the Wasatch Back looked like a snowglobe Friday.
The snow water equivalent in Utah reached 26.4 inches Friday. The previous known record set on April 13, 1983, was 26 inches, according to Utah Snow Survey data.
The combination of heavy snow and high winds wasn’t good for drivers.
Utah Highway Patrol Trooper Eddie Wright said he counted 220 crash reports on Utah interstates and highways Friday. The real total is likely higher if any crashes or slide-offs went unreported.
He said as spring arrives, temperatures fluctuate, which can make the snow slicker on roads. He said his office is “begging” people to stay home or slow down when storms hit.
“The roads are warming up,” he said, “and then when the snowstorm comes in, it's more of a slush than it is snow packing on it, and people think they can still travel at freeway speeds, which they can’t. That's where we're getting a lot of these slide offs and people losing control when they hit a patch of slush as they’re going through.”
He said snow squalls are particularly dangerous. That’s when heavy snow moves through an area quickly, bringing whiteout, icy conditions almost instantly.
That happened in Parleys Canyon Friday just after noon. On Interstate 80 eastbound, the Utah Department of Transportation reported a multi-car wreck, and a traffic camera showed about a dozen cars and semi trucks turned sideways and parked all over the place.
According to the National Weather Service Salt Lake City office, the Park City area received between 6 and 13 inches of snow between 3 a.m. Friday and noon Saturday. Park City Mountain and Deer Valley each reported over 20 inches of snow between Thursday night and Friday night.
Saturday morning brought more wrecks on Interstate 80, as well as on U.S. Highway 40.
Aside from those, conditions also slowed traffic and resulted in questionable driving choices by at least one Corvette driver.
Randy Casper called KPCW Saturday while driving to the airport and explained an odd situation he saw on I-80 eastbound around Parleys Summit.
“The traffic's backed up eastbound all the way down to the golf course,” Casper said, “and what's causing that is, we saw a black Corvette at the top of Parleys, and he was going backwards to the east direction. So, what I figured out is Corvettes only have rear-wheel drive, so he turned around so he could have front-wheel drive.”
Wright said there were no reports of major injuries Friday in the Wasatch Back.
Near Farmington on Legacy Parkway, a pile-up with 17 cars and two semi trucks resulted in one broken leg and four people sent to the hospital with minor injuries. It happened on an overpass, where Cooper said roads become slick more quickly than those with earth underneath.
The storm brought avalanche conditions to Little Cottonwood Canyon and Big Cottonwood Canyon, both of which closed during the day.
Little Cottonwood first closed to uphill and downhill drivers a little after noon and reopened at 7 p.m. UDOT announced it closed again Friday around 10 p.m. and reopened Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
In Little Cottonwood Canyon, the Town of Alta declared emergency interlodge before 2 p.m. People had to stay indoors for nearly five hours while crews worked to prevent avalanches in the area.
Big Cottonwood also closed shortly after noon Friday and reopened a little before 4 p.m.
According to the National Weather Service, up to three more inches are in the forecast through the rest of the weekend before some sunshine returns to begin next week.
Real-time traffic updates are available on the UDOT traffic website.