Wirth Watching: The Great October Snowstorm of ’84

Wirth

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4)- Utah had its first snowstorm this week. It was predicted that the storm would hit the mountains. However, the cities were relatively untouched by the storm. That wasn’t always the case with October snowstorms. In fact, the biggest 24-hour snowstorm ever in Salt Lake started on this very date back in 1984. 

ABC4’s Craig Wirth takes us back to that storm all the way back in ‘84 and it is Wirth Watching.

Northern Utah recently experienced its first snow of the season. What was unusual about it was that it was in October. The high mountain elevations saw quite a lot of snow for it still being autumn. 

When people looked out their windows, they saw the snow had plastered their flower pots, buried their barbeques, and bent the branches of the trees. It was a surprise to everyone who shoveled their way out of autumn and into an early winter.

People talked about how unusual it was for it to snow so early in the season. It’s likely that even people who were just visiting mentioned what a winter wonderland Utah was. And as plentiful as this last snowstorm was, it was a whimper compared to the snowstorm of 1984.

The snowstorm of ‘84 happened exactly 37 years ago on October 11th and 18th, 1984 and it occurred right in Salt Lake City. Residents expected there was going to be snow but they had no idea what they were in store for.

That storm set the record for the most amount of snow in a 24-hour period. It also caused an extensive amount of damage. The headlines in the papers read, “Trees down, car pileups abound, early snowstorm wreaks disaster.” The National Weather Service reported that some areas of Salt Lake County received up to 22 inches of snow.

So much snow had fallen that people were literally stuck. Cars were buried under snow. Even the Utah Highway Patrol was not spared from the effects of the snowstorm as they needed the help of good samaritans to push their cars out of the snow. If anyone needed help from the Highway Patrol, they had to dig them out first. 

The storm kept making headlines: Monster Storm Sends Shivers Through Utah. The picture on the paper showed a woman talking on a payphone after having dug through the snow enough to reach it. It was, after all, the days before cell phones.

How could all that happen in October?

The storm caused half the city to be without power. Some residents were without power in their homes for up to three days because the lines were down. Crews worked day and night to restore the power for residents. 

Meanwhile, everyone else was trying to shovel their way out of the snow. It had snowed so much that some cars were simply buried in it.

The University of Utah did not hold classes that day. Students took advantage by taking part in a few rounds of golf in the snow while wearing shorts in the old university golf course. Just imagine trying to get a hole-in-one in a course filled with snow. 

The snow didn’t stop falling. The following day, the storm broke records with the most amount of snow falling in the state ever. More trees came down, and so did some of the residents who were working to move those down trees. One man slipped trying to remove some branches from his driveway, laughing as he fell onto the snow. 

“It was pretty amazing, all in all,” he said, “for the middle of October!”

When the storm passed, it was time to clean up the mess it left behind. The highway patrol started clearing up a 56-car pileup (you read that right, 56). The headline the next day: “Snow Dump Leaves Valley Scurrying.” The valley did scurry, sledding down hills for the joy of it.

In the end, snow in the middle of October is nothing new. But the storms of October 17th and 18th 1984 were something completely different.

By the way, that record for most snow in a 24-hour period in Salt Lake City was broken in 1998. What was interesting about that was that while the eastern part of the city got 22 inches, places like Magna and West Jordan saw no snowfall in that storm.

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