UPDATED: Southern Utah braces for next storm, prepares for potential road, national park, school closures

Snow in Ivins, Utah, Feb. 17, 2019 | Photo by Rory Lewis, St. George News

ST. GEORGE With a major snow storm on the horizon, municipal and county officials are urging the public to take care in their travels while area school districts and Zion National Park are monitoring the incoming storm and anticipating potential closures.

Update Feb. 21, 7:15 a.m. Thursday morning, the Washington County School District sent an email informing parents that all schools in the county would be starting 2 hours later than normal and morning kindergarten was cancelled. They said:

This means that the buses will run their routes two hours later than their regular pickup time and buses may not be able to go up some steep hills.

The Washington County School district previously sent the following email to students’ parents concerning the coming storm:

Dear Parents and Students, School has not been canceled for tomorrow, Feb 21. Please keep checking the District website, washk12.org, for updated information as the storm moves in. Any cancellations will be posted on that site. Thanks!

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and city of St. George have issued advisories over social media concerning the storm that is forecast to begin Wednesday evening and carry through Friday morning.

 

Washington County

“They’re actually saying 5 to 7 inches in town with outlying areas getting upwards of 12 inches,” Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said during a Washington County Commission meeting Tuesday.

Read more: Winter storm could bring 3-6 inches of snow to St. George, 1-2 feet to mountains

Pulsipher wanted to the public to know that updates on weather conditions can be found on the county emergency center’s social media pages: Facebook | Twitter.

In regard to road conditions, Pulsipher said Highway 91 had become a mess due to the increased traffic that tried to avoid congestion on northbound Interstate 15 that was caused by a crash in the Virgin River Gorge Sunday night.

Read more: Chaos follows when winter storm turns I-15 into sheet of ice Sunday, trapping motorists for hours | Winter storm wreaks havoc on Southern Utah highways, leading to multiple crashes, rollovers

Multiple vehicle slide-offs kept deputies busy until after 1 a.m., Pulsipher said.

The Virgin River Gorge is around 2,500 feet above sea level, Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox said, adding that parts of Old Highway 91 reach over 5,000 feet.

“When it’s bad in the gorge, it’s three times worse on 91,” Pulsipher said.

Before driving out into the snow, motorists be prepared, especially if the end up stuck in the snow somewhere, he said.

St. George

The city of St. George issued a warning to residents Tuesday to keep road travel to a minimum if possible during the storm.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning, in effect from 5 p.m. Wednesday to 9 a.m. Friday. Minimizing your travel around town will be important because our city does not have snow plows for surface streets. Substantial snowfall like what is being forecasted (3-7 inches) is rare.

Please keep this in mind as you plan the rest of the week.

The city also issued a new advisory Wednesday on driving precautions and potential road closures caused by the storm.

Try to avoid driving during the snowstorm. If you can work from home, work from home. If you must drive, consider these things:

  • Scrape or brush off all vehicle windows prior to driving.
  • Slow your speeds
  • Avoid steep hills and consider alternative routes
  • Keep a longer-than-usual following distance between your car and the car ahead of you. Give yourself plenty of reaction time.
  • Watch for ice on bridges and overpasses and in areas that don’t get a lot of sun

Although the city does not own snowplows for surface streets, it has salt and sand spreaders to help with the more dangerous areas where ice can accumulate, like bridges and steeper hills. If the Police Department determines a road is too dangerous to navigate, it will shut it down. The more likely candidates for closure are heavily shaded areas, bridge decks and steep hills, including portions of:

  • 1000 East
  • Foremaster Drive
  • Canyon View Drive
  • Airport Drive

Be prepared to take alternate routes.

Washington County School District

Thursday morning, the Washington County School District sent an email informing parents that all schools in the county would be starting 2 hours later than normal and morning kindergarten was cancelled. They said:

This means that the buses will run their routes two hours later than their regular pickup time and buses may not be able to go up some steep hills.

The Washington County School district previously sent the following email to students’ parents concerning the coming storm:

Dear Parents and Students, School has not been canceled for tomorrow, Feb 21. Please keep checking the District website, washk12.org, for updated information as the storm moves in. Any cancellations will be posted on that site. Thanks!

Iron County School District

According to policy set by the Iron County School District, if officials decide to call a snow day, it will be announced over the school district’s website and social media.

Dixie State University and Dixie Technical College

Officials at Dixie State University will decide by 6 a.m. Thursday if any classes will be canceled for the day, said Jyl Hall, the university’s public relations director.

Students and faculty will be alerted through calls, texts and email, as well as over the school’s website and social media accounts.

Dixie Technical College announced late Wednesday afternoon that Thursday classes have been canceled.

Zion National Park

National Park Service officials said Wednesday in a press release that the National Weather Service is predicting 12 to 24 inches for Zion National Park with higher elevations getting more.

The park will be clearing roads, with the priorities being the facilities in lower Zion Canyon and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from the South Entrance through Canyon Junction and to the Zion Lodge in order to maintain emergency service access to park facilities.


UPDATE: Park officials announced Wednesday afternoon that the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway between Canyon Junction and the East Entrance and the Zion Scenic Drive north of the Zion Lodge will close tonight at 7:00 p.m. in anticipation of the snow storm.

The Kolob Canyons Scenic Drive has already closed due to heavy accumulation.

Neither the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, nor the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center are expected to open Thursday.


Until roads can be safely plowed, visitors should expect delays or closures on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway from the East Entrance through the tunnels and to Canyon Junction; on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive north of the Zion Lodge; and on the Kolob Canyons Scenic Drive.

The Zion Canyon Visitor Center and Kolob Canyons Visitor Center may also be closed or have a delayed opening depending on conditions.

Snow levels in the backcountry areas of the park will be especially high, upward of two feet deep. Wilderness recreation is not recommended, especially as the park will have limited search and rescue capabilities under storm conditions.

Visitors are encouraged to check the park’s social media platforms for the latest on road closures and conditions before visiting the park during the winter storm.

Those who do enter the park are also encouraged to drive carefully and use traction devices on the trails. Rockfalls and falling ice are common in Zion, even in the main canyon, during major weather events.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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