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A fast-moving storm system turned spring into a windy hell in northern Utah on Tuesday afternoon, wreaking havoc on traffic, producing hazardous levels of particulate matter in the air, and ushering in a wintry forecast for Wednesday.
Low visibility from blowing dust caused many crashes on Interstate 80, including a 17-vehicle pileup that left one person dead and 25 others injured, according to the Utah Highway Patrol.
A semitrailer truck had slowed down as visibility worsened just after noon on I-80, about 68 miles from the Nevada border. Motorists behind the semi could not see the truck slowing down; six other semitrailer trucks and 11 passenger vehicles crashed. One person in a passenger vehicle died, and 25 others were injured, 18 of whom were taken to various hospitals. Helicopters could not assist in the rescues due to the winds.
UHP Sgt. Todd Royce did not know the conditions of those injured; the name of the person who died was not released Tuesday.
Multiple semitrailer trucks also were toppled as winds in the west desert reached more than 80 mph, according to National Weather Service reports. I-80 was closed in Tooele County to westbound traffic for more than 6 hours.
The winds also caused levels of particulate matter in the air to skyrocket to several times federal clean air standards. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality rated Tuesday's air quality "hazardous" along the Wasatch Front from Salt Lake through Weber counties as wind gusts kicked up dust. All people were advised to stay indoors, especially those with heart and respiratory ailments, as the levels of PM2.5 fine particulate matter reached 279.8 and 297.8 micrograms per cubic meter of air in Salt Lake and Weber county, respectively, far exceeding the federal standard of 35.5. All other northwest Utah counties were under air quality advisories of "unhealthy" or "very unhealthy."
But levels receded to normal as Tuesday's winds gave way to plummeting temperatures, rain and snow. Snow was expected to continue into Wednesday, with about 3 inches of accumulation expected on valley floors and 5 inches to a foot expected on the benches of the Wasatch Front.
The weather service had placed the Wasatch Mountains and western Uintas under a Winter Storm Warning through 4 p.m. Wednesday. Communities from Logan running south through Ogden, Salt Lake City, Provo and Nephi to Price and Richfield will be in the storm's path.
Northern Utahns may have to work through the snow to clean up the aftermath of Tuesday's windstorm. As of Tuesday night, more than 15,000 Utahns remained without power due to wind damage. High winds ripped the siding off one side of Dimple Dell Recreation Center at 10670 S. 1000 East in Sandy, exposing the building's infrastructure and interior drywall. Erin Litvack, Salt Lake County's community services executive director, said Utah Disaster Kleanup is being brought in to enclose the building frame to prevent damage from any rain or snow that follows the wind.
Southern Utahns will stay warmer, with Wednesday's highs predicted to be in the mid-60s. No precipitation is expected, but strong winds, in the 25-35 mph range, were expected to kick up a lot of high desert dust.
For more extensive forecast information, visit the Tribune's weather page at http://www.sltrib.com/weather.
Twitter: @remims Road Weather Highlights for High Winds
Forecast period: through 9 a.m. Wednesday for northern Utah:
High winds in advance of and behind a strong cold front will impact portions of northern Utah through early Wednesday morning. Gusts of 60-plus mph will be especially likely along SR-30 and western I-80. Gusts above 50 mph are likely in the SLC valley as well Tuesday afternoon.
For central and southern Utah:
Strong winds ahead of an approaching cold front will impact most of southern and central Utah, with southwest winds of 40-50 mph, with gusts above 60 mph in the West Desert.
Source: Utah Department of Transportation