Despite a dump of almost nine inches of snow last week in southeastern Utah, drought and abnormally dry conditions have spread across the lower half of the state this year, according to the National Weather Service.
While Moab may have gotten a dumping-on, the rest of Utah — especially in the mountains — is lacking snowpack right now, according to a story in The Salt Lake Tribune. As of Wednesday, Dec. 27 the snowpack in southeastern Utah is estimated at 14 percent of the yearly normal. In some areas of the state the snow level is at the lowest or second lowest it’s been in three decades. Those dry conditions are mainly spread across central and southern Utah, according to the National Weather Service.
Even with the current dry conditions, the average snowfall in Moab for the entire month of December is usually just three inches, and only six inches for an entire winter. The snowfall of Thursday, Dec. 21 wasn’t a record-setter — and it won’t improve a possible descent into drought — but the storm that swept across the area is one that people will remember.
“In talking with the street crew members that have been in Moab longer than the years that I have been here, this was an event that might happen once every 10 years,” said Moab Public Works Director Patrick Dean.
Make that 20.
The last time Moab saw this much snow in one day was back in 1998, when a storm laid down two feet of the stuff, according to weather statistics kept by local meteorologist Ron Pierce.
By commute time (such as it exists in a Moab winter), the storm had drivers skittish, snow shovels hefted, and public works and emergency response crews working hard.
That morning was probably a bad time for city crews to discover one of the snowplows had a bad battery, but the vehicle was only out of commission for about 45 minutes, Dean said. There was also a “small brake issue” with one of the small plows used for clearing sidewalks and trails.
Those inconveniences were perhaps mitigated, however, by the fact that school was out for the winter break, meaning that city crews could shift their attention away from what would normally be a priority — school zones and bus routes.
Dean said crews responded well, and there were no complaints.
He said the only reaction he’d encountered was a “thank you” from two cyclists who passed as he was shoveling snow on a pedestrian underpass.
“Yes, people still cycle in eight-inch snow events in Moab,” Dean quipped.
Later that morning, a single Moab Police Department officer had worked three different automobile accidents within 90 minutes. That didn’t include the department’s responses to slide-offs or other weather-related calls.
One of the bigger mishaps involved a semi that had gotten stuck on the north end of town, keeping southbound traffic on U.S. Route 191 blocked for quite some time.
Employees from nearby Poison Spider Bicycles left off from clearing their own property to assist freeing the rig, which was stuck so solidly that not even tire chains were of any use. The crew dug snow away for half an hour until the tires could get some traction, said Poison Spider’s Ryan Steenson.
“Once he got going, he got out,” Steenson said.
Steenson has been in Moab only about a year, but already knows enough about it to be able to say of the storm, “This was pretty huge.”
At the other end of town, and on the other end of the Moab-longevity spectrum, is Blanche Voss, store director of Maverik.
“For one storm, I haven’t seen anything like that since I was little,” said Voss, a lifetime resident of Moab, as she and other employees were still digging out from the storm the day after.
The storm, though freak as it was, didn’t affect business much. “It didn’t stop people from going anywhere, I think,” Voss said.
It didn’t seem to urge people to prepare more for colder weather, either. Asked if she’d seen an increase in the sales of bundles of firewood in a display outside the store, she said, “Firewood? No.” She pointed to another display on the other side of the store’s front doors. “But window wash? Yes.”