Freezing rain uncommon in Utah

(Photo by: Raychel Johnson) Weber State University facilities management crew attempts to clear the ice off the sidewalks on campus.

(Photo by: Raychel Johnson) Weber State University facilities management crew attempts to clear the ice off the sidewalks on campus.

With today’s average temperature above freezing, odd weather phenomena such as freezing rain leaves some Weber State University students out in the cold. According to the National Weather Service, freezing rain, or precipitation that falls frozen to the ground, has only occurred 10 times since 1940. The last time was Jan. 27, 2005.

Ulia Hatch, a freshman studying education, was left waiting for public transit for almost an hour on Thursday, and arrived to WSU two hours late.

“I will probably wear a warmer coat,” said Hatch, talking about her preparations for the future weather. “(You) have to come to school, no matter rain or shine.”

Meteorologist Monica Traphagan with the National Weather Service said freezing rain is rare for the Salt Lake City area, and even points west of the Rocky Mountains. She said freezing rain forms when precipitation that is initially rain at the upper levels encounters a very shallow cold layer and becomes “super-cooled.” The current inversion effect can be blamed for causing freezing rain.

“When it makes contact with ground or cars, or some sort of another object, when it falls, it freezes immediately on contact,” Traphagan said. “So the reason that we’re talking about the inversion being involved in this is because that’s what causes the temperature profile.”

Due to northern Utah’s mountain-valleys climate, inversion effects will move in during the winter and cause the temperatures below to be colder than the temperatures above. Rain above the inversion will fall through and become the “freeze-on-contact” phenomenon experienced across northern Utah, wherever the inversion layer sits. Cold air flowing all the way down causes snow, which wasn’t the case on Thursday.

The Salt Lake City International Airport was also affected by the weather, and runways were closed for at least three hours. One jet slid on the runway, but no one was injured. At the airport, the freezing rain began to fall at 5:50 a.m. The closure delayed more than 100 passengers.

With the roads covered in a sheet of ice, driving conditions are less than ideal, and walking on the sidewalks can be even worse. Jacob Jamsa, an athletic therapy senior, said he didn’t have very far to drive, but that the most exciting part of his commute was walking down to campus.

“So I knew that it was going to be a little slick, but it wasn’t until I walked outside and stepped on the snow that had now turned into just a sheet of ice that I just about ate it,” Jamsa said. “So far I haven’t slipped, but it’s just a matter of time, I suppose.”

According to Vic Saunders, the northern Utah spokesperson for UDOT, there were nearly 500 accidents along the Wasatch Front, including fender-benders. He said bridges and overpasses should be avoided because they were the first to freeze.

“Well, any place where there is a very sharp curve on the interstate, people need to be very careful around those,” Saunders said. “The big curve in Sardine Canyon, just before you get to Wellsville, was the site of some very severe accidents today.”

Saunders said that, because of the air circulation, the bridges and overpasses were very hard to de-ice. He said UDOT has been spending a lot of time to clear the roads. He advised drivers to pay attention to everything up to a mile ahead of their own vehicle.

“People should pay very close attention today,” Saunders said, “and, because of the conditions that we’re having today, more so than any other day, this is not the time to be texting or talking on your phone while driving.”

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Posted by on January 24, 2013. Filed under Above the Scroll, General, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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