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Havoc: snows snarl traffic

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

The early week snowstorm left skiers and snowboarders giddy but it snarled traffic on local roads, shut down Interstate 80 and caused a series of avalanches in the backcountry, including one in Empire Canyon.

The National Weather Service reports Park City received 11 inches of snow through 7 a.m. Tuesday and snow fell consistently through midday. The 11 inches are not a devastating total but the storm struck in the hours before the morning commute and the snow continued as drivers tried to get to work. Snow is forecast in Park City through Friday night.

Streets that had already been plowed quickly became packed with snow through the midmorning hours and numerous slide-offs were reported to local authorities.

Meanwhile, the Utah Department of Transportation closed Interstate 80 between the mouth of Parleys Canyon and Kimball Junction at 9:30 a.m., as slow-moving commuters were trying to get to work. Department spokesman Nile Easton says westbound lanes reopened at about 11:30 a.m. and the eastbound lanes at about 11:50 a.m.

Easton says the state’s snowplow fleet can handle sustained snow as heavy as an inch an hour but the snowfall rate was about three inches an hour. Closures on the interstate occur once or twice a year, he says.

"Big snowstorms inconvenience a lot of people," Easton says. "It’s still wintertime."

Easton says highway officials were concerned ice would form on Interstate 80 on Tuesday night.

Local authorities say there were lots of minor traffic accidents on Tuesday morning. The Park City Police Department says no injuries were reported in the city. Some of the accidents involved drivers sliding into parked cars, dispatchers say.

Summit County dispatchers say more than 20 minor accidents were reported on Tuesday morning, mostly occurring when vehicles slid off the road. Accidents were reported on Interstate 80, U.S. 40 and in Echo Canyon, among other locations.

Pace Erickson, who manages the snowplow fleet for the Park City Public Works Department, says he sent four snowplow crews out Monday night and six were clearing streets on Tuesday. Two are broken down, though, leaving Public Works without the full complement of plows, Erickson says, indicating it is common that the entire fleet is not in operation at the same time.

"It’s basically push back, clean up and get ready for the next storm," Erickson says.

He says the city’s snowplow crews have operated on a 24-hour cycle since Sunday. Wind caused snowdrifts along Royal Street and off Silver Lake Drive, some measuring 2 1/2 feet tall. Erickson says the wind is "the biggest issue."

Avalanche forecasters issued a warning on Tuesday indicating a high danger of human-triggered and natural avalanches, mostly on slopes facing north, east and southeast, according to Brett Kobernik, a forecaster with the Utah Avalanche Center.

Backcountry travel is not recommended for people without expertise for at least the remainder of the week, he says.

The center charted at least four avalanches in or just outside Summit County, including one on Sunday in Empire Canyon, south of Old Town. A skier triggered the Empire Canyon slide, which measured between 1 1/2 and 2 feet deep and 150 feet wide, according to the center. Nobody was injured.

Another local avalanche occurred east of Claytons Peak, near Guardsman Pass, on Monday, Kobernik says. The slide measured between three and four feet deep and between 300 and 500 feet wide, he says. Another Monday avalanche occurred in the West Monitor region, in the backcountry between Park City Mountain Resort and The Canyons. It measured between six and 12 inches deep and 200 feet wide, according to Kobernik.

At the resorts, officials say crews conducted avalanche-control work and most of the terrain was open, with some delays, on Tuesday.

Krista Parry, a spokesperson for Park City Mountain Resort, says the Jupiter lift was closed on Tuesday because of poor visibility and high winds. Avalanche-control crews were unable to work at Jupiter before the resort opened Tuesday but they were expected to make the area safe by Wednesday morning, Parry says.

Deer Valley says four lifts did not open on schedule Tuesday morning because of high winds. All were opened before noon, Erin Grady, a Deer Valley spokesperson, says.

At The Canyons, spokesperson Libby Dowd says two lifts, Ninety-Nine 90 Express and Super Condor Express, opened a little late for avalanche-control work but all the lifts were open by midmorning.

"People are in waist-deep powder," Dowd says.


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