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High winds whip Utah

Trees and power lines damaged, cars slide off the roads

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Alan Peterson from UDOT's Incident Management Team works traffic control in Magna at 4100 south and U-111 after the road was closed due to high winds.

Alan Peterson from UDOT’s Incident Management Team works traffic control in Magna at 4100 south and U-111 after the road was closed due to high winds.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

High winds and a tailing winter storm ripped through parts of Utah on Thursday, blowing in a layer of powder, a lack of power and a load of traffic problems.

High winds severed tree limbs, toppled power lines and were mostly to blame for leaving some 13,000 Salt Lake County, 1,100 Tooele and 300 Ogden residents without power late Thursday afternoon, Utah Power spokesman Dave Eskelsen said.

Power restoration could be made problematic by a snowstorm that was expected to drop 1 to 2 feet of powder on mountains and ski resorts throughout today. Snowfall was expected to vary throughout the Wasatch Front, perhaps from 2 to 3 inches in the valleys to a foot in some bench locations.

Utah Power, criticized for leaving scores of homes in the dark for days after a storm last week, planned to have a full complement of crews on hand to work as needed through the night to restore power, Eskelsen said Thursday.

Teams included 11 full line crews, seven two-man crews and five trouble shooters. Many others were on call and expected to mobilize more quickly than last week, as most personnel have returned from vacation, Eskelsen said.

Earlier Thursday, snow and gusts of up to 100 mph halted half of Snowbird's chair lifts and its tram. "It was pretty harsh," spokesman Dave Fields said.

In Tooele, estimated 80 mph gusts knocked a snowplow off U-36 near the Tooele Army Depot and onto its side Thursday morning, the Utah Highway Patrol reported. At least 10 cars slid off of U-36 between the depot and the town of Stockton. There were no reported serious injuries.

A high wind warning for semitrailers and other high-profile vehicles remained in effect most of the afternoon for I-80 west of Salt Lake City to Wendover. East of Salt Lake City, Summit County sheriff dispatchers reported at least 20 slide-offs over a two-hour period early Thursday evening.

In Magna, afternoon high winds created snow drifts on U-111 (8400 West). Salt Lake County sheriff's deputies temporarily shut down the road between 4100 South and 5400 South after snow and ice caused several slide-offs. No serious injuries were reported.

Avalanche danger closed Little Cottonwood Canyon at 8 p.m. Authorities said it was expected to be closed all night.

The winds, blowing steady at up to 40 mph in the Salt Lake Valley, were shoving a front through Nevada into Utah late Thursday, said Mike Conger, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service's Salt Lake City office.

For the mountains north of Salt Lake, the accumulations will add to the 9 to 15 inches that stacked up at the cusp of the new year.

And if that doesn't deliver enough white stuff for some tastes, weekend storms might.

"We have a few more lined up to come through through early Sunday," Conger said.

The storms continue winter's momentum that crowned December as the second-wettest on record in Salt Lake City, Conger said. Last month's 31.2 inches of snow — nearly 20 inches above normal and the fifth deepest on record — brought with it the equivalent of 3.97 inches of water.

The record is the equivalent of 4.37 inches of water, reported in December 1983, Conger said.

Still, Utah ended its fifth year of drought with below-normal precipitation levels.

The total was 15.95 inches. Normal is 16.5 inches.

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com; preavy@ desnews.com