Weather alert: Flash flood and avalanche warnings in the mountains, wet and icy roads

Scene of a crash at River Road and Riverside Drive, St. George, Utah, Dec. 24, 2021 | Photo by Ben Lindquist, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — There’s a stocking full of travel weather impediments leading into Christmas Eve, from a wet and icy Interstate 15 to a flash flood warning in the area of Zion National Park and an avalanche alert in the mountains.

Scene of a crash at River Road and Riverside Drive, St. George, Utah, Dec. 24, 2021 | Photo by Ben Lindquist, St. George News

The National Weather Service in Salt Lake City and the Utah Department of Transportation issued advisories Friday morning for multiple hazardous conditions.

Some of the effects of those advisories were already seen on Southern Utah and Arizona roads before the sun rose, as a woman died overnight in a three-vehicle collision in the Virgin River Gorge as a result of wet roads, and later in the morning, a crash rendered two vehicles disabled at the corner of River Road and Riverside Drive. However, while there was precipitation in St. George when the crash occurred, as of publication of this report, the exact cause has not been reported.

For drivers heading north on I-15 from Southern Utah, UDOT released a statement that travelers should take their time with wet and icy conditions.

“Brief road snow/slush is possible at times for routes along I-15 from Cove Fort south to Cedar City, especially over Scipio Summit,” the statement read. “Roads are expected to run wet in the afternoon.”

Those trying to get in and out of Brian Head may find no roads to use at all. UDOT said state Route 143 is closed in both directions between milepost 17, which is a mile south of Brian Head, and milepost 27.

Current weather alerts and advisories as of 10:54 a.m., Dec. 24, 2021 | Map courtesy of National Weather Service-Salt Lake City office, St. George News | Click to enlarge

A couple of ridges away, the problem isn’t frozen water. The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for all slot canyons and small streams in Zion National Park and Kolob Canyon through 4 p.m. Friday. That includes the north fork of the Virgin River.

A flash flood warning means flash flooding is imminent or already occurring.

Overnight, the U.S. Geological Survey’s flood gauges on the east fork of the Virgin River near Springdale went from around 5.5 feet to 7.5 feet as of 11 a.m. The weather service said between 1-2 inches of rain have fallen in the area since Thursday night.

The National Weather Service also said at the north fork of the river, water is flowing at 1,600 cubic feet of water per second and will continue to run swift and fast through the duration of the day Friday.

In this June 2021 file photo, crews work to clear Zion Park Boulevard after a flash flood swept through Zion National Park and Springdale, Utah, June 29, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

However, swift-moving ice is a worry higher up.

The U.S. Forest Service’s Utah Avalanche Center in Salt Lake City has issued a backcountry avalanche warning for nearly every mountain range in Utah, including the mountain areas above Cedar City, through 6 a.m. Saturday.

The center said both human-triggered and natural avalanches are likely and that people should stay off and away from slopes steeper than 30 degrees.

Taking to the air above the roads for holiday travel isn’t offering much of a reprieve.

According to the Associated Press, hundreds of flights have been canceled not because of weather but because of the amount of staff out sick with COVID-19.

“The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” United Airlines said in a statement.

Precautionary and preparedness actions

For the most current conditions, warnings and advisories, go to the National Weather Service-Salt Lake City office website. Additional information on driving conditions can be found at the UDOT website, as well as UDOT’s Commuterlink for current road and weather conditions, or dial 511.

Download this printable PDF: Vehicle Preparation and Safety Precautions for Winter WeatherThis is a project the whole family could participate in – make it a scavenger hunt with potentially lifesaving benefits.

Getting ready

  • Be aware of road conditions. UDOT recommends checking CommuterLink for road and weather conditions before leaving home.
  • Clear any frost and snow from the car’s lights and windows. Make an effort to see and be seen while driving.
  • Inspect the vehicle’s tires, fluids, wiper blades, lights and hoses. Preventative maintenance may save a car from breaking down and stranding drivers and passengers on the highway.
  • Allow for leeway in travel time. Expect to drive slowly in adverse weather conditions. High speeds can lead to skidding off the road and getting stuck in the snow.
  • Have emergency supplies in the car. A basic winter emergency kit may include items like a flashlight, batteries, snacks, water, gloves, boots and a first-aid kit.

When driving

  • Take it slow. Drive well below posted speed limits and leave plenty of space between cars.
  • Approach intersections, off-ramps, bridges and shaded areas slowly. These areas are hot spots for black ice.
  • Slow down in cases of limited visibility and be alert.
  • Whether someone drives an elevated SUV or a ground-kissing Toyota Prius, again, UDOT says to take it slow. Just because a truck has 4-wheel drive doesn’t change how it handles on the road, especially when traction goes out the window. Mother Nature is no respecter of automotive diversity.
  • Keep the vehicle’s speed down. The faster the car goes, the longer it takes to stop. Be slow on the accelerator or risk having the car skid when the next stop sign appears.
  • Do not use the car’s cruise control while ice and snow still abound.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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