A huge winter storm was bearing down on the Wasatch by Friday (Oct. 10). But, what did it bring? How about a nice harbinger of things to come?
I woke up Saturday in Salt Lake City and all was white. It was the first day of winter before Halloween even blinked. There was about three inches of snow on my roof. But, by late afternoon, most all of the snow had melted. The good news is it was sticking in the mountains.
It was cold indeed, just as predicted. SLC never got any higher than 47 degrees Saturday, but that was just three degrees higher than the lowest ever on the same date.
It probably doesn't make much difference yet, but Brighton Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon picked up about five inches, while Snowbird in Little Cottonwood had some seven inches mid-mountain Saturday. No records. No huge snow dumps in the Wasatch. But, everything is white and spirits are high. Getting more snow than normal this early has to be seen as a "glass half full," even though it may not mean much scientifically.
The winter weather watch was to be in effect until 5 p.m. Sunday, but unless the storm pulls a fast one on us overnight, the story's over for now. No resort has announced any change of plans for opening sooner than Thanksgiving.
The last Autumn Big One hit Salt Lake City in 1984. A huge dump that broke all 24-hour snowfall records. A record 18.4 inches of snow fell at the airport Oct. 17-18 that year.
That meant even greater amounts in the mountains south and east of the Great Salt Lake. All havoc broke loose, too, as no one expected this much winter in the middle of fall. Power lines snapped and traffic skidded to a halt as the storm stymied the morning commute.
What's different these days is that, back then, the Great Salt Lake had risen more than 12 feet and had nearly doubled its surface area from 1982-1987.
"The trajectory of the cold air with this storm was right across a very large and warm body of water," says Sterling Poulson, KUTV News' meteorologist. "Bands of lake-effect snow developed over the lake and marched right down the Salt Lake Valley and into the Wasatch Mountains."
Now, he says, the lake is close to record lows. There is about half the surface area there was in 1984, therefore clipping the amount of moisture that can move through and squeeze onto the mountains.
"It means a great sign of things to come," Solitude Resort's Nick Como said Friday. "One of the best ways to start a ski season is with a consistent base of snow early. Aside from getting people excited, it allows terrain to open quicker."
This was the second snowstorm to hit the Wasatch this fall; laying more snow on the peaks and down onto lower elevations. Plus, the dip in temps means firing up the guns.
"This is really early to start thinking about building a base, but if we have cool temps for the rest of the fall, and if this storm brings what they are saying, plus if we can start blowing snow soon, then it puts us in a nice position for our planned opening on Thanksgiving Day," said The Canyons' Libby Dowd.
The timing couldn't be better. "Our bailout plan for the ski economy is lots of snow early," said Ski Utah's Nathan Rafferty. Season pass sales are good thanks to last season's 702 inches of snowfall, he said, but "nothing is going to take the place of the destination skier, so we need to make sure they still get here."
Getting people to take a ski vacation this year is "tricky when you're susceptible to all sorts of factors like snow, economy, and airfares," he added.