‘Bowling ball of cold air’: St. George-SLC flights canceled as ‘historic’ winter storm approaches

File photo of the tarmac at St. George Regional Airport, St. George Utah, May 14, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — High winds and up to two inches of snow might be descending on St. George over the next two days. Because of that, not much may be ascending from St. George Regional Airport in the next 48 hours.

Snowfall at Green Spring Golf Course in Washington City, Utah, on March 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Disruption to air travel is just a small piece of potential nationwide havoc likely to be caused by what the National Weather Service is saying is going to be a “historic” winter storm.

“This is a very broad-reaching winter storm,” Michael Wessler with the National Weather Service’s Salt Lake City office told St. George News. “The whole national sphere is being affected by this.”

The storm even has a name: Winter Storm Olive. 

Tuesday morning’s calm weather, however, allowed the scheduled Delta Airlines flight to depart St. George Regional Airport on time at 6:10 a.m. Shortly thereafter, two there-and-back loops between St. George and Salt Lake City were canceled in anticipation of the storm’s arrival, while one flight from Salt Lake City arrived about a half-hour late at 1:02 p.m. and will remain overnight, scheduled to go out Wednesday morning.

The single United departure from St. George to Denver left on time at 9:59 a.m.; it is scheduled to return at 10:44 p.m. and remain overnight, departing Wednesday morning. The American Airlines flight from Phoenix arrived on time and also departed on schedule.

The entire northern half of the country as well as Utah, California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico are expected to see effects. The long-lasting arctic blast is expected to bring record snow to Minnesota and the Dakotas and also a lasting layer of white to the St. George area. 

Airport Manager Rich Stehmeier said they will be ready.

“We have the plows and the broom trucks ready to go,” Stehmeier told St. George News by text. “It shouldn’t affect us too much other than what’s happening in Denver and SLC.”

Blizzard-like weather affecting two of the cities the airport serves – Salt Lake City and Denver – isn’t the only reason most flights are expected to be canceled over the next 48 hours. The weather in St. George itself might be tough to take flight from.

In St. George proper, wind gusts overnight from Tuesday into Wednesday are now expected to be as high as 59 mph. Residents with patio furniture should be advised. Gusts are expected to peak at 58 mph in Cedar City and as high as 62 mph in Zion National Park.  

Forecast of wind gusts for Feb. 22 and 23, 2023 in Utah | Photo courtesy of National Weather Service, St. George News | Click to enlarge

“This is a really significant system with the strongest winds arriving overnight tonight,” said Wessler, adding there is still a question mark as to whether the winds will be the kind that are momentary gusts or more sustaining. 

Then there’s the chance of snow. 

St. George is known for being finicky as far as snow forecasts. St. George residents woke up on Valentine’s Day to snow on the ground with little warning. Now, 0.5-2 inches of snow are in the forecast between Wednesday-Thursday. 

Wessler said the main reason St. George is less predictable for snowflakes is unlike Cedar City — the cold air that produces snow usually arrives in St. George after the precipitation has already passed.

Wessler said Wednesday may see the same phenomenon. 

“We’re looking with this first storm cycle the interplay between the cold air and precipitation, which is a challenging thing with St. George,” Wessler said. “We’re carrying half an inch of snow for St. George for Wednesday but by the time the coldest air arrives, the rain will be done.”

That said, Wessler said the white stuff is much more certain for St. George on Thursday. 

“The next one (on Thursday) is more concerning,” Wessler said. “For St. George to get snow, the cold air needs to be settled in. Thursday is bringing a bowling ball of cold air. I do think we have the potential for 1-2 inches of snow.”

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