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Dust storm that killed 8 on I-15 is the second deadliest storm in Utah since 1950

Posted at 5:44 PM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 19:44:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The dust storm that blinded drivers on I-15 in Millard County on Sunday was the second deadliest storm since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration started tracking such events in 1950.

Eight people died in the multi-car pileup.

Read - Utah family loses five, including 3 children, in I-15 crash

The deadliest, a storm system that killed 21 people in a pair of flash floods in Hildale and Zion National Park in September of 2015.

Flash floods are a common occurrence in Utah, especially in Southern Utah's narrow canyons, but deadly dust storms are not. In fact, they don't appear on the long list of deadly storms in Utah at all.

But dust is an increasing threat in Utah, according the University of Utah Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science Kevin Perry, who has studied the dust from Utah's dry lake beds for five years.

Some of the exposed dust is the result of drought.

"As the drought has intensified more and more of this area has been exposed which is leading to more frequent dust events," Perry said.

Read - The weather phenomenon behind deadly crash on I-15

Drought also kills plants that hold some soil in place, but Perry is clear that human activity has a lot to do with increased dust available for wind to sweep into the sky.

"Whether it be disturbance of the surface, whether it be water diversions from the Great Salt Lake, these are choices that we're making that are increasing the amount of dust we have in our atmosphere," said Perry.

Perry pointed to a delicate but effective crust that covers much of Utah's more arid regions. Once that crust is destroyed, the wind can easily carry the underlying dust into the skies.

Read - Tips for driving in low visibility highway situations

That can be dangerous in extreme scenarios like the storm that led to eight deaths on I-15 in Millard County, but Perry says it's also dangerous to every resident who breathes in the particulates.