Storm piles snow in valleys, clears the air
Dozens of crashes reported; some bus routes shut down.
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The first warmer, blue skies in a while didn't last long.

As the storm blew in from the north in the late afternoon on Thursday, a light snowfall and a breeze soon accelerated to 1 to 2 inches of snow every hour and 40 mph to 60 mph winds by the evening. Meteorologists expected that the storm, which will last off and on through at least Friday night, would drop 5 to 10 inches of snow in the valleys along the Wasatch Front and central and southern mountains, plus 6-12 inches on the benches and 1-2 feet in the mountains.

"This storm was going to be a run of the mill storm in the mountains, with one to two feet [of snow], what you usually see, but down in the valleys the intensity of the storm was going to be pretty severe," said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

As of about 8 p.m. Thursday, Centerville reported 8 inches of accumulation, Deer Valley Resort reported 6.5 inches, Stansbury Park in Tooele County and South Ogden reported 6 inches, the Avenues in Salt Lake City saw 5 inches of snow on the ground. Around 9 p.m., Cedar City even saw 2-3 inches of snow on its northeast side.

The strong winds and heavy snow made for slow and treacherous commutes across the state.

The Utah Highway Patrol reported 60 crashes in Salt Lake County between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., one of those resulting in injuries, and Utah County had 14 crashes — with no injuries — during the same time frame. Such totals were not immediately available for other areas of the state.

But some of the crashes on Thursday were caused by drivers waiting in their vehicles on the side of highway for troopers to respond. UHP urged motorists that if they get involved in a minor crash to move off to the next exit before calling 911.

Public transit passengers felt the stalled commute as much as anyone.

"Our buses are stuck in the traffic with everyone else," said Utah Transit Authority spokesman Gerry Carpenter, some running 15 minutes to one hour behind schedule depending on where the snow plows had cleared the roads and highways. As of 6 p.m., UTA had to shut down its bus routes east of Weber State University in Ogden, in the Avenues in Salt Lake City and east of Highland Drive in Salt Lake County, since the buses were too big and heavy to maneuver the steep, snow- packed roads.

Frozen switches in the FrontRunner lines also delayed some passengers Thursday, Carpenter added.

The snowstorm brings with it a considerable risk for snow slides in the Logan, Ogden, Salt Lake and Provo area mountains on Friday, according to the Utah Avalanche Center, up from their moderate risk ratings on Thursday.

The heavy snow also shut down some Utahns' evening plans.

It was a snow day for students of the Ogden-Weber Applied Technology College, and the Ogden Symphony Ballet Association canceled its violin concerto performance Thursday night. All of the public libraries in Salt Lake County also closed early — about 6 p.m. — so that patrons and staff could get home.

Marcus MacDonald, a barista at a Salt Lake City coffee shop, noticed a lot of patrons were staying home Thursday night, rather than brave the slippery route to the business. He wasn't too concerned with his own drive home from work — he lives close by. "But I'm not looking forward to digging [my car] out when I get home."

At least the storm makes for more breathable air than the valleys have had for days. Much of Utah started Thursday in the "red," or unhealthy air-quality zone, but the Utah Division of Air Quality graded breathability for the most of the state as "green," or healthy, beginning Friday, except for Uintah and Duchesne counties, which were rated "yellow," or moderate.

Another upside?

"It's going to be a great day for skiing [on Friday]," McInerny said.

Though eager skiers won't be able to get to some resorts right away. Little Cottonwood Canyon will close to all traffic for avalanche-control work starting 6 a.m. Friday and is expected to reopen by 8:30 a.m.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda —

Forecast

Snowfall will remain heavy at times through Friday, gradually tapering off Friday night. The snow will diminish over much of the state by Saturday morning. Temperatures are also expected to remain below or close to freezing through the weekend, with daytime highs expected to dip 20 to 30 degrees in most places on Friday.

Source: The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City