Snow shovels and plows went full tilt this weekend as a winter storm brought up to a foot of new snow to Utah mountains and clogged roadways with dozens of accidents, including crashes involving four Utah Highway Patrol vehicles and a fatal rollover near Blanding.
A 70-year-old woman died on State Road 191 north of Blanding when she lost control of her pickup and rolled off the snowpacked roadway, the UHP said. The woman suffered head and neck injuries and died at the scene.
A Salt Lake County man was buried up to his neck by an avalanche and reportedly broke his leg while skiing with three friends in the Broads Fork Canyon area of Big Cottonwood Canyon, Unified police Lt. Justin Hoyal said. The slide occurred about 2:30 p.m. The man's friend dug him out of the snow and called for help.
A state helicopter rescued the man, whose named was not released, about 9:30 p.m. and took him to a waiting ambulance, Hoyal said.
The size of the avalanche was not known Sunday, but a preliminary report posted on the Utah Avalanche Center (UAC) website by Bruce Tremper indicates it was a naturally released "glide" avalanche that was not triggered by the skiers.
According to Tremper, "glide" occurs when the snowpack moves as a unit over the ground or rock slabs, much as a glacier would and often with no warning or weather-related contributing factors.
"The area above where the party was traveling has widespread, steep, rock slabs, and glide avalanches occur several times per winter in this area," Tremper wrote in his post after speaking with the skiers. "This party appeared to just have some bad luck, and they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
National Weather Service data show Utah's mountain resort areas got the heaviest helping of new snow. Big Cottonwood Canyon's Brighton Crest got 12 inches, and 10 inches fell at Alta in nearby Little Cottonwood Canyon. A total of 9 inches was reported at Park City's summit, while Deer Valley got 8 inches.
Monica Traphagan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the storm system is set to move out early Monday. A high-pressure system is moving in so skies are likely to become hazy in the Salt Lake area. But by midweek, a dry cold front is expected, which should stop a strong inversion.
"For the next week or so, it'll be generally fair weather conditions," she said.
Monday's forecast for the Salt Lake area calls for partly sunny skies, with a high near 30 and a low of around 12.
On Saturday, UHP troopers said they worked 61 crashes in Salt Lake County, including 14 personal injury crashes and 46 vehicles slide-offs. In Utah County, there were 19 accidents and 14 slide-offs.
UHP reminded drivers to be cautious on state roadways after a trooper was hit by an out-of-control motorist Sunday at about 3:20 a.m.
Trooper Jason Whitehead was assisting a motorist whose vehicle had slid off Interstate 15 near 2500 South in South Salt Lake when a second car went out of control and struck his patrol cruiser. Whitehead was inside the car with his seat belt fastened and suffered only minor injuries.
Whitehead was the fourth trooper hit since the storm began late Friday and the 13th trooper struck on a Utah highway in 2013, UHP said. In all of 2012, only 12 troopers were hit.
Also Sunday, In the backcountry, avalanche danger is considered moderate statewide, meaning basic skills are required to avoid dislodging large masses of snow on isolated slopes.
The snow from the weekend storm was "very light, fluffy and it came in with little wind the kind of snow that Utah is famous for," said avalanche forecaster Craig Gordon of the UAC.
Avalanches are possible, but conditions are more manageable, compared to two weeks ago when 40 inches of snow was dumped on pre-existing weak layers.
"People need to use precautions; they should travel with avalanche rescue gear and experienced partners," said Gordon. "That said, it's a great time to be up in the mountains."
Dawn House contributed to this report.