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Bad weather causes problems on the roads and on the mountains

(Credit: North Fork Fire Department)

WASATCH FRONT – Icy freeways, several inches of snow and a lot of wind caused major issues for drivers all over the northern part of the state.

By Friday afternoon, SR 210 in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Highway 198 in Provo Canyon, and the westbound lanes of I-80 in Parley’s Canyon had all seen closures due to crashes.  Meteorologists say even when the main storm front passes, lake effect bands of snow are likely to fall.

Some safety officials say many people may feel they have a good grip on the road in the harsh weather, but, state troopers say they have no problem pulling people over for driving too fast in the snow, even if they haven’t broken the speed limit.

“If I’m patrolling and it’s snowing, raining or icy and a car comes past me and I’m doing 60, which is below the speed limit, I’m going to be much more likely to take enforcement action,” says UHP Sergeant Brady Zaugg.

There hasn’t been a statewide order for troopers to look for drivers flirting with the limit, but Zaugg says freeway speeds are very “top of mind” for them.  He says section leaders can tell their troopers to be mindful of these kind of drivers, depending on their needs.

Zaugg says, “In the rural areas, speed isn’t as much of a factor because the traffic isn’t a factor, either.”

He also says section chiefs and sergeants are reporting a lot of stops involving cars not properly equipped for this kind of weather.

“We’ve had a lot of vehicles with bald tires.  So, I would encourage people to check their vehicle equipment and make sure their vehicles are in good operating condition,” he says.

Even when the storms pass and the danger on the roads subsides, the danger on the slopes will not.  Utah Avalanche Center Forecaster Nikki Champion says there are three things adding up to cause high potential for slides.  One, she says there is the sheer amount of snow that has fallen.

“It just compiles with everything.  We keep getting ten to 20 inches of snow, a day,” Champion says.

Plus, there is the wind that has been gusting up to 70 miles an hour in some places.  Also, there’s the fact that this new layer of snow is falling on top of a weak layer that dropped last month.

“Everything on the south [facing slopes] that got sun melted off, but, everything that was shaded, up high and in those north aspects sat there and it became sugary and weak,” Champion adds.

The center has already tracked naturally forming avalanches that didn’t need human interference to happen.  So, they have only one suggestion for people who want to hit the slopes.

“The only recommendation we have is to stay off avalanche terrain.  What that is is any slope steeper than 30 degrees.  That also means traveling underneath slopes that are steep, as well,” she says.