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The Year The Army Did Battle With The Snow In Utah

December 23, 2015

Hey, Traci. What’s up?

Rodney, are you guys alright?

Sure. . .why do you ask?

I just saw the news. Looks like they declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard in Utah. Are you safe? 

Ha ha. Yes, we’re all fine. 

What happened?

It snowed. It snowed a lot, but this is Utah. It’s just snow.

The year was 1993. A series of winter storms came roaring in off the Pacific just after the new year burying the northern part of the state in 42″ of  snow by January 13th. Even before counting the snow the rest of the month, that set a record for the snowiest month in Utah history. 

I was working for WordPerfect as a 3rd tier support specialist. Each of us on the S.W.A.T (Strategic WordPerfect Assistance Team) team had a group of clients that were ours. It was one of the first Technical Account Management positions created in the computer industry. (How I Saved The EPA, Don’t Tell Pete) Allstate was one of my clients and Traci was my contact there. I’d been out to their headquarters in Northbrook, IL, suburb of Chicago, several times. And Traci had been to our headquarters in Orem, UT. 

People from Illinois, and especially Chicago are used to snow. I lived there for two years in the mid 1980s. The “lake effect” could bring bitter cold temperatures and lots of snow. Utah lacks the cold that Chicago can experience. We get a lake effect as well. The Great Salt Lake can bring us more snow in the winter, but because of the lake’s high salt content, it doesn’t freeze. And all that liquid acts like a great big radiator. It keeps the Salt Lake valley from getting bitter cold. 

But, lake effect, along with storms off the Pacific can contribute to lots of snow. And in 1993, we got lots of snow. The first storm came through January 2nd, dumping 9 inches at the airport. Three storms the following week dumped 6″, 6″ and then 8″. Three days later another storm and another 7″. 

Shoveling driveways became a constant task. In fact, by the time you’d reached the street, the pavement near the house was already covered again. Homeowners were busy, but the snowplows were running round the clock. And that’s what eventually lead to the Army getting involved. 

Growing up in the greater Seattle area, and during a nearly 10 year career at Microsoft, snow was an event. More than two or three inches and the city shut down. It’s easy to point and laugh at those wimpy Washingtonians who can’t drive in the snow. But, the truth is that it’s more about the city than the drivers. I remember one snow storm in Seattle that dumped 25″ at Christmas time. It took the city days to recover. During the news stories it was revealed that the entire city of Seattle owned two snowplows. My little town of Pleasant Grove, UT has more than that. It’s hard to clear the streets if you don’t have a fleet of snowplows.

All Utah towns have snowplows, and salt trucks and sand trucks. But, those trucks have to be driven by people. And even if the equipment can run 24×7, the people can’t. In the first few weeks of 1993, the snowplows were out in force, clearing the roads. Again and again. And again. And still again. At one point there was a story about an altercation between a snowplow driver and a homeowner. The snowplow threw a berm of snow across the person’s freshly shoveled driveway. The homeowner had had enough. Grabbing his shovel he chased the snowplow smacking any part he could reach with the plastic shovel.

The governor realized that something had to change. 

Can we get the National Guard to relieve the snowplow drivers?

You can only call out the National Guard if you declare a state of emergency, Governor.

So, he did. He declared a state of emergency and pulled the exhausted snowplow drivers out of their trucks and replaced them with Utah National Guardsmen. The story got national attention and my friend from Illinois called to check on me. 

Utah is in the middle of another winter storm today. This one won’t rival the storm of 1993, but it’s making travel hazardous. Some things haven’t changed in the twenty years since those storms of the early 1990s. I’m still working in technology. I’m back to working as a TAM. And it still snows in Utah in the winter. The biggest difference is that unlike twenty years ago, I can sit in my nice warm house and watch the blowing snow while doing my job from home. 

Times like this I really love technology. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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