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No one ever thought a tornado would wreak havoc in Salt Lake City.
Summer campers never predicted they would shiver from falling snow.
And you would never guess that a small town in Utah was the site of the costliest landslide in US history.
But that’s what happens when the weather gets weird in Beehive State. From blizzards and floods to dust storms and record high temperatures, Utah has seen a lot of crazy things over the years. And some of them happened very recently.
A three-day blizzard in 1949
Utah may have “the greatest snow on earth,” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause problems. Writing for Only in Your State, Catherine Armstrong said the worst snowstorm on record occurred in 1949 when a three-day blizzard hit in January.
“The blizzard shattered windows and collapsed roofs. Snowdrifts up to 10 feet high piled up in driveways and along roadways. Temperatures dropped well below freezing,” Armstrong wrote.
Once the snow froze, the plows couldn’t move them, stranding people all over northern Utah. Military cargo planes even had to trigger “Operation Haylift” to drop hay to starving animals.
Snow in July
The next time someone complains about too much snow in April, you can tell them it snowed once in the summer. Although the National Weather Service lists the last snowfall at Salt Lake International Airport as May 18, 1960 (and the same day in 1977), another news report says otherwise.
A 2010 Deseret News article reported that the headline of the July 1, 1968 edition of the Deseret News read, “Old Man Winter Scuttles June Weather Records.” According to the article, light snow fell in parts of Salt Lake City on June 29 of this year.
“Windy conditions and blowing snow closed highways in Yellowstone National Park in late June 1968,” the article reads. “Utah campers in shorts huddled around campfires during the day, struggling to keep warm. Utah farmers reported severe crop damage as lows at Salt International Airport Lake City hit a record high of 40 degrees on July 1.”
Floods bury the town of Thistle
If you’ve been around for a while, you’re probably familiar with the infamous floods of 1983. But you might not realize that the costliest landslide in US history occurred as a result of these floods. The ghost town of Thistle, Utah holds this infamous designation.
“Record rainfall in the fall of 1982, followed by deep winter snow, then warm spring temperatures and a rapid snowmelt in 1983 paved the way for the Thistle landslide,” Mark wrote. Milligan for the Utah Geological Survey. “Once triggered, the slide reached a top speed of 3.5 feet per hour and dammed the Spanish Fork River within days.”
The landslide was 1,000 feet wide, nearly 200 feet thick and over a mile long. It flooded two major highways, disrupted rail service between Denver and Salt Lake, and was Utah’s first presidential disaster declaration.
Tornado rips through Salt Lake
Perhaps the most unforgettable example of strange weather in Utah was the tornado that tore through downtown Salt Lake on August 11, 1999. No one expected a tornado to sweep through an area surrounded by mountains – but that morning the conditions were perfect. The F2 tornado lasted 10 minutes, injured 80 people and killed one. It caused $170 million in damage and “awakened everyone in the state to the fact that Beehive State experiences tornadoes,” the National Weather Service said.
Don’t worry – the weather service also points out that Utah still has one of the lowest tornado incidences on record in the country.
St. George hits 117 degrees – twice
Unless you’re a fan of heatstroke, it’s probably a good idea to avoid booking July family reunions in St. George. The popular tourist destination has always been famous for its red rocks and high temperatures – but on July 5, 1985, the heat broke a record. The city set the highest temperature record ever for the state when the mercury hit 117 degrees Fahrenheit, Stacker reported.
Interestingly, the National Centers for Environmental Information released a report earlier this year confirming that St. George equaled its record high of 117 degrees a year ago on July 10.
Dust storm causes crash that kills 8
Extreme heat and drought conditions are behind many of Utah’s severe weather events, including this July 2021 tragedy in central Utah. High winds kicked up enough dust on the highway to cause several crashes, which ultimately killed eight people.
Unfortunately, the chances of this happening again are high. Reporting the crash for Deseret News, Amy Joi O’Donoghue wrote that “Utah does not suffer from frequent, high-intensity dust storms, but as drought conditions continue to grip the state, the risk to have more is amplified”.
If you find yourself driving into a dust storm, the best thing to do is pull off the road, turn off your lights, put on your emergency brake, and stay in the car with your seatbelt on.
September sets record 100 degree-days
It’s the one most Utahns will remember — because it was last month. If September felt abnormally hot for you, it was for a good reason. Carter Williams reported for KSL.com that the average high temperature ended up being 87.8 degrees, which barely broke the 1979 record of 87.5 degrees. A big reason for the record average temperature was the seven days of 100 degree heat at the start of the month. On Sept. 7, Salt Lake hit a monthly high of 107 degrees, which ties the city’s all-time record.
Prior to this year, Salt Lake had only had three days to hit 100 for all of September combined.
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