WEATHER ALERT: Here’s what to expect as remnants of California blizzard head to Utah

Feb 29, 2024, 12:43 PM | Updated: Mar 1, 2024, 8:31 am

Snow in Little Cottonwood Canyon...

Motorists drive through falling snow in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Feb. 7. A storm arriving in Utah has the potential to deliver multiple feet of mountain snow and decent valley accumulation this weekend, depending on variables. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A winter storm warning has been issued for several Utah mountain ranges, while many valley communities are listed in a winter storm watch ahead of a storm that has the potential to deliver multiple feet of mountain snow over the next few days.

The incoming storm has already produced a slew of weather alerts west of Utah, including a blizzard warning in the Sierra Nevada mountains that currently lasts through Sunday night. The National Weather Service alert states that 5 to 10 feet of snow are generally expected there, but some parts could end up with as much as 12 feet or more.

Projected snow totals aren’t as drastic as remnants of the atmospheric river move east; however, the storm has the potential to bring big-time mountain snow totals in parts of northern Utah because of how the storm is forecast to move, says KSL meteorologist Matt Johnson.

“This could bring a quick punch of water,” he said.

Windy weather

Mild and windy conditions are forecast to continue over the next few days because of the storm.

The National Weather Service issued wind advisories and high wind warnings for many parts of the state for Friday and Saturday — and even into Sunday in parts of eastern Utah — after some alerts on Thursday.

Gusts of up to 50-70 mph or more are possible across the West Desert parts of the Wasatch Front and parts of central, southwest and southeast Utah. But stiff winds and gusts are expected almost everywhere in the state.

Storm timing

Johnson says a mix of rain and snow showers will begin to pick up in northern Utah on Friday. The mix of rain and snow could spread out to parts of the Wasatch Front later in the day, but most of the precipitation is expected by the Utah-Idaho border as the quasi-stationary cold front stalls out over the region.

More widespread rain and snow showers are forecast for Utah on Saturday as the cold front begins to move again, sweeping through the state throughout the day. Valley rain is expected to switch to snow for many communities as that happens, which could be sometime in the early afternoon for the Wasatch Front.

Scattered snow showers are forecast to linger through many parts of the state on Sunday before conditions dry out on Monday, adds Nicole DeSmet, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.

Potential accumulations

Parts of northern Utah and southeast Idaho have the highest probability of strong precipitation because of where the cold front is forecast to stall, Johnson says.

It’s why the National Weather Service initially projected the Wasatch Mountains north of I-80 may have higher snow totals than other ranges in Utah, but it has since issued winter storm warnings for many other ranges. Those state:

  • 1 to 2 feet of snow are possible in the Wasatch Mountains, as well as the West Uinta and Wasatch Plateau/Book Cliffs. Higher totals are possible in the Bear River range and upper Cottonwood canyons.
  • 1 to 2 feet of snow are possible in the central and southern mountains. Higher totals are possible within the Tushar range.

In all cases, wind gusts of up to 65-75 mph on exposed ridgelines are forecast. This is expected to produce blowing snow that could “significantly reduce visibility” at times, the warnings state.

A winter storm watch has been issued for many Utah communities, at least for now. Those state:

  • 8 to 16 inches of snow is forecast for the Wasatch Back, including Park City and Huntsville.
  • 4 to 8 inches of snow is forecast the Bear Lake and Bear River Valley areas.
  • 2 to 5 inches of snow is forecast for the valley floors and 4 to 8 inches within bench areas are possible within the Wasatch Front and Tooele Valley, as well as communities in northern and central Utah.

The bulk of the storm’s precipitation is expected to fall during the second half of Saturday through early Monday. DeSmet says. But she adds that the agency is tracking multiple variables that could determine how much snow communities receive. These include how much moisture is left in the decaying atmospheric river as it heads to Utah and how much is left after the cold front moves through.

“(Accumulation projections) could still change as we look at the latest model trends and how conditions are playing out,” she said.

All parts of the state are expected to receive at least a decent dose of water from the storm. Some models indicate that Utah communities, especially along the Wasatch Front, northern Utah and central Utah, could end up with close to an inch of precipitation — rain or snow — by Sunday afternoon, Johnson said.

Full seven-day forecasts for areas across Utah can be found online at the KSL Weather Center.

Storm impact

Rocky Mountain Power officials said they are monitoring the storm because it has the “potential to cause weather-related outages” either through the strong winds or snow. Customers can call 877-508-5088, text “out” to 759677 or use the company’s app to report outages or receive updates about them.

“As a reminder, treat all downed wires as live and dangerous,” officials wrote. “Customers should avoid both downed trees and downed powerlines, and ensure pets are kept far away from those areas.”

As for travel, Utah Department of Transportation officials warn that heavy weather impacts are likely across most of the state, especially during the second half of Saturday.

The storm could also get Utah’s statewide snowpack average to the annual median peak — if there is enough moisture left in the system through these variables.

The state average reached 14.3 inches of snow water equivalent after a storm that arrived earlier this week, hitting the median average from the 30-year normal about a month before that typically happens. Utah’s snowpack is just 1.7 inches below the average peak, which includes years before and after the span of 1991 through 2020.

The state’s reservoir system ends February at 83% capacity, so it’s likely that some water managers will begin more controlled releases in the coming weeks and months to prepare for the spring snowmelt.

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WEATHER ALERT: Here’s what to expect as remnants of California blizzard head to Utah