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Winds Up To 99 MPH Hit Utah, Skittering Semis And Shuttering Capitol

A semi rests in its side after after high winds toppled it on Interstate 15 near Bountiful, Utah, Tuesday.
Rick Bowmer
A semi rests in its side after after high winds toppled it on Interstate 15 near Bountiful, Utah, Tuesday.

Intense winds caused havoc on Utah's highways Tuesday, flipping dozens of semi trucks onto their sides and forcing officials to restrict travel on interstates. Hurricane-force wind gusts were common, forcing the Capitol building to be closed to employees.

Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state of emergency on Wednesday due to the severe wind event.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said via Twitter, "45 semi trucks have overturned (a record number for our state)."

In a video captured by the Utah Highway Patrol, a truck is seen momentarily balancing on its right-side wheels before flipping over and skidding to a stop next to another truck.

The agency also posted numerous photos of other semis in similar predicaments, urging drivers not to risk driving through the wind storm.

Wind speeds peaked at 99 mph in one area just north of Salt Lake City, according to the National Weather Service's local office. Winds reached 89 mph at the University of Utah, the agency said.

The winds knocked over large trees and downed power lines, creating a mess in communities and on the roads.

"There are numerous closures on I-15 from Salt Lake County north to the Idaho border," the Utah Highway Patrol announced on Tuesday. Urging people to avoid the area, it added, "If you're stuck in traffic, do not exit your vehicle due to flying debris. And, avoid parking alongside high profile vehicles."

Schools canceled classes in the Salt Lake, Davis, Ogden and Weber school districts "due to widespread power outages, continued strong winds through the morning and travel restrictions for high-profile vehicles like school buses," member station KUER reports.

More than 110,000 homes and businesses were left without electricity, according to KUER. The station adds that while recovery teams are working to repair infrastructure, people should be prepared to go 72 hours with their own water, food and batteries.

The strong winds came as a cold front rushed into the region, thrusting Salt Lake and nearby areas into a temperature shift of nearly 40 degrees. On Monday, the high had been 93; on Tuesday, it was 55, the weather service says.

The worst winds eased Tuesday afternoon, before picking up again in the evening. It wasn't until Wednesday morning that some of the last restrictions on high-profile vehicles on highways were lifted in Davis County, north of Salt Lake.

"Winds are still consistent, but nowhere near yesterday's magnitude," the highway patrol said.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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