By James Nelson
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Reuters) - A fierce winter storm rolled into the Salt Lake area overnight causing power outages to 21,000 homes in Utah and southern Idaho and creating havoc on the interstate highway system.
"It's a really strong cold front. There will be an abrupt change," said Nanette Hosenfeld with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.
Forecasters said valley locations would receive 1-3 inches of snow and the mountains 1-2 feet before the storm moved out of the region.
The winter storm quickly replaced unseasonably mild temperatures that had golf courses busy and had melted much of the winter snowpack in the Salt Lake Valley.
Strong gusting winds preceded the snowstorm in northern Utah. Reports of wind damage to homes, yards and trees were commonplace as the winds topped 60 miles per hour in some places.
High profile vehicles were having difficulty on portions of the interstate highway system in northern Utah. The Highway Patrol closed some sections of the system until the wind and snow hazards diminished.
There were numerous slide-offs, jack-knifed trucks and car accidents. One semi-truck was toppled by the powerful winds, leaving the driver critically injured and the truck submerged in water.
The National Weather Service's Hosenfeld told Reuters the winds were officially clocked at 69 miles per hour in central Utah and 85 miles per hour at the Snow Basin ski resort near Ogden. Some ski resorts were forced to close their lifts until the winds subsided.
During the peak of the storm 21,000 customers across Utah and in southeastern Idaho were without power.
"It's all weather-related," said Margaret Oler, spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain Power. She told Reuters more than 12,000 homes in several Utah communities were still without power at midnight. Crews were working through the night to repair intersection semaphores and power lines.
At a Utah Jazz-Golden State Warriors basketball game, a power outage caused dimmed lighting in the 19,000-plus-seat arena and stopped play for a time.
Meanwhile much of the Northeast United States was enjoying a dry and mild day on Thursday, with temperatures rising to the 40s in New England and the 60s in the Mid-Atlantic region.
In the Plains dry and warm weather will continue in some areas for the next five to 7 days.
But colder air moving in from Canada may trigger another snowstorm in the Midwest by early next week.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)