Blizzard impacts roads, schools and electricity
by Bill Boyle
San Juan Record Editor
A massive three-day winter storm knocked out electricity, closed highways, and impacted schools in the past week as the winter of 2023 continues to wreak havoc in San Juan County.
The forecast suggests that even more storms will hit the county, which looks to pull out of several years of dryer than normal conditions in one epic winter.
Bitter cold and heavy snow combined to knock out electricity in areas across the county on February 22. Crews fought “galloping” power lines that triggered the blackouts for hundreds of electrical customers, some of them being out of power over several hours. School was canceled in the Monticello and La Sal schools on February 22.
The storm subsequently transitioned into a blizzard for nearly 48 hours, with blowing snow and whiteout conditions. It was particularly challenging on Highway 491 between Monticello and Cortez, with large sections of the highway closed by a Highway Patrol that could not ensure safe driving conditions.
Snowplow crews were on the road day and night, except during the times when they could not drive because of zero visibility.
Public schools were in session on February 23, but it became clear that school busses would have difficulty returning students to the Eastland and La Sal areas. As a result, the buses were sent home early during a brief break in the storm in a coordinated effort with road crews and the highway patrol.
The Utah Highway Patrol reports that there were several crashes and lots of slide-offs, but thankfully there were no reported injuries on the roads. One truck loaded with apples rolled over on Highway 491 east of Monticello.
Much of the truck traffic was rerouted south on Highway 191, where the roads were in better condition.
Friday, February 24 was a remote learning day in Monticello with students receiving assignments and instructions through technology.
In total, the storm brought 20 inches of snow and nearly an inch of water to Monticello and four inches to Blanding.
With several weeks remaining in the winter season (and little sign of a let-up), the snow pack in area mountains continues to grow. The current snowpack conditions in Southeast Utah totals 184 percent of normal for the date and 152 percent of an entire normal winter.
The accumulated snow held 20.5 inches of water on February 28 at the Camp Jackson Sno-tel station in the Abajo Mountains, with more on the way.