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6 deaths blamed on January weather

Early February's dry, balmy days are offering sharp contrast to a wet, sometimes treacherous January.

Six lives were lost in Utah mountains last month in weather-related accidents."It was a tragic month," William Alder of the National Weather Ser-vice said.

Four people died in a Jan. 11 helicopter crash in Little Cottonwood Canyon when a trio of rescue workers from University Hospital attempted to lift out an injured skier. A vigorous cold front laced with heavy snow enveloped the helicopter as it ascended, causing the crash.

On Jan. 16, an avalanche claimed the life of a Moroni backcountry snowmobiler in the Pleasant Creek area of North Sanpete County.

The next day, another snowmobiler died in Spring Canyon avalanche about eight miles southeast of Coalville.

Indeed, heavy January snowstorms in Utah mountains meant long work hours for local avalanche watchers. Several people had to be pulled from slides, including four Boy Scouts who were buried under 3 feet of snow Jan. 16 while camping in Beaver County.

About 100 avalanches were recorded along the spine of the Wasatch on Jan. 13 alone, Alder said.

Despite chilly snowfall in Utah mountains, the Salt Lake Valley enjoyed a relatively warm January. El Nino can be thanked for pushing temperatures about 10 degrees above normal, Alder said.

Record Salt Lake highs were set on the 17th and 27th when the mercury climbed to 56 and 55 degrees, respectively.

Although January snowfall in Salt Lake was about half the usual amount, total precipitation was 147 percent of normal.

January statewide precipitation numbers were well above normal, thanks to a very wet period from Jan. 9-20, Alder said.

Heavy storm activity pushed snow/water equivalent numbers to just about normal in the state's basins except for a few areas in southern Utah.