A winter storm warning will be in effect early Thursday for the Wasatch Mountains, the Uintas and areas like Utah’s Book Cliffs, with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City urging extreme caution for holiday travelers.
From Thursday morning into Friday night and early Saturday morning, the service warned, “Travel could be very difficult to impossible.”
Thursday-Friday: A Winter Storm Warning has been issued for the mountains of northern Utah including the valley areas of the Wasatch Back. A Winter Storm Watch has been issued for Uinta County, Wyoming. Significant snowfall impacting travel is expected in these areas. #utwx #wywx pic.twitter.com/DdmfI8aICR— NWS Salt Lake City (@NWSSaltLakeCity) December 22, 2021
The upper Cottonwood canyons, for example, could receive 3 feet of snow.
Will the urbanized areas along the Wasatch Front see new snow in time for Christmas?
Glen Merrill, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, said there might be a trace of new snow, but likely very little during that time period. He said the first series of storms will be nothing like what hit the Wasatch Front in mid-December.
Most of the precipitation will fall as rain and Sunday — the day after Christmas — is when a good amount of snow could blanket areas all along the I-15 corridor.
“We’re entering a storm cycle that looks to continue more often than not into the New Year,” he said. “We’ve got several storms lined up.”
Christmas Day will be a “brief break” for precipitation accumulation before the next batch of storms roll in Sunday, Monday and into Tuesday, Merrill said.
“Sunday’s got more potential to bring snow (to the valleys),” he said. “And it looks like Monday night into Tuesday we will have impactful snow in the valley. And each storm gets progressively colder.”
Button up the parkas and prepare for high temperatures that could be in the 20s, or even lower.
“We could see our coldest temperatures of the year,” he said.
The good news as far as temperatures go is that Thursday delivers a warm storm that gets the Wasatch Front into the 40s and provides residents a chance to thaw before the cold settles in.
“We might see a little relief from the freezing temperatures on Thursday,” he said.
More storms are slated to hit Wednesday into Thursday next week.
“The big takeaway is that it is going to be very active over the next seven to 10 days and we are going to be getting winter weather more often than not through that whole period.”
So what makes a white Christmas white?
The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City had a little bit of fun with that question, throwing it out on Twitter via a Sunday poll.
The agency asked people to respond to whether a white Christmas means it actively has to be snowing or if it is sufficient to have snow on the ground.
In response to the poll, 766 Twitter users weighed in, with a majority insisting that snow should be falling for it to be a White Christmas.
Help us with a Sunday afternoon discussion we're having at the office. For a White Christmas you need:— NWS Salt Lake City (@NWSSaltLakeCity) December 19, 2021
Merrill said he has never personally thought about it, but noted if there is snow on the ground that works as a white Christmas for him.
The weather service also provided some numbers on the social media platform on snow and its relationship to Christmas in Utah.
It said that since 1884, 31% of Christmases in Salt Lake City had received 0.1 inch or more of snow accumulation.
As far as snow on the ground goes? Since 1928, Salt Lake City has had 1 inch or more of snow for 52% of Christmases.
In response to the coming storms, the Utah Department of Transportation issued a travel alert about hazardous conditions impacting holiday travel.
Merrill said the heavy accumulation of mountain snow will present challenges for travelers.
“But this is what we need. This is tough for travelers, but we really need this,” he said. “We need to keep building that snowpack in the mountains.”