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Winter is officially on its way

Storm watch in effect for valleys; the smog should clear out

A skier cruises on the opening day at Snowbird Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Thursday.
A skier cruises on the opening day at Snowbird Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon on Thursday.
Brian Nicholson, Deseret Morning News

Old man winter is settling in as the first major cold front of the season is expected to move through the state today.

Above-average temperatures are once again a thing of the past and forecasters say colder weather and icy conditions are here to stay, at least through the weekend and much of next week.

"The first one is always good because it reminds people what they need to do to prepare for winter," said National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Smith.

A winter storm watch is in effect for the valleys, but he said it could turn into a warning if storms produce more moisture than expected. A heavy snow warning has been issued for much of the state's highlands, including mountains north of Beaver and the Wasatch mountain valleys along the I-15 corridor from Millard County to the Idaho border, and will remain in effect until noon Sunday.

"The cold air is moving in and we may just experience our highest temperatures, in the mid- to upper-30s in the morning hours," Smith said. He said the cold air hails from Alaska but is being pulled into a system coming in off the Pacific Ocean.

The good thing, he said, is that the valley will be rid of the layer of smog for the time being.

"We've had a lot of stagnant air hanging over the valley and the first thing this system will do is get that haze scoured out," Smith said.

Unimpeded winds rushed across the flatlands west of the Great Salt Lake and brought behind it light rains that began falling late Friday with snow flurries expected to develop this afternoon.

Smith said rains will continue off and on throughout the day, leaving snow mainly in the mountains until the lake effect storms come across.

Ski resorts are set to benefit the most as the first real snowfall will add substantially to the man-made snow base already covering several runs. Nearly 2 feet of snow is expected for high elevations, with 6 to 12 inches in the valleys. Lake effect storms also are expected, which will add to the snow amounts "possibly by quite a bit," Smith predicts.

"It looks like a pretty good week for the ski areas," Smith said. "They usually do well with this type of storm system."

Significant amounts of snow often makes travel dangerous, says Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Greg Willmore.

"When we've had a pretty long fall, we get used to the dry roads," he said. "Traditionally, (travel conditions) have been bad with the first storm, but there's usually a quick learning curve."

He cautions drivers in addition to wearing seat belts, to increase following distances and take ample time getting to the destination.

"We have to remember the roads aren't dry anymore, they're wet and slippery," Willmore said. Officers will be keeping an eye on specific areas, including the mountain passes and metropolitan areas where traffic is normally heavy, he said.

"We'll be out there, reminding people to slow down," Willmore said.

Today's storm will be followed by another, more productive snow storm, expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

"Looks like winter is on its way," Smith said.