Snow

Antarctica? Cowboy State was a sea of blowing snow during Great Thanksgiving Blizzard

in Bill Sniffin/Column

By Bill Sniffin

Travel in Wyoming was horrific on the days leading up to the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday. Heavy snow and high winds struck at least three-fourths of the state. It was a mess.

For a while, the state was land-locked. There were few people able to get in to or out of Wyoming.  Interstate 80 was closed. Interstate 25 was closed. And most other major roads were closed.

Of course, this was occurring on Thanksgiving week and people were on the move.  AAA estimated 55 million would be traveling more than 50 miles and a good number of them planned to head through Wyoming. The snow not only affected people with connections to Wyoming but also folks east and west of the state that were hoping to travel across the state. Not on this week, at least for a while.

Besides highways, there were businesses, schools, colleges, and the University of Wyoming closing early for the holidays because of the storm. 

Last I checked we had 21 inches of snow on the ground at my house in Lander. And yet, we had it pretty good compared to some folks around the state.

Cheyenne was a disaster zone. Pete and Chloe Illoway recently moved north of the capital city and found themselves battered by wind and snow.

“We live in an area they call the ranchettes just south of the Torrington Highway so there is nothing to stop the wind or snow except for shelter belts. Our drifts are hard and high. They may not melt until early spring,” Pete says.

“It was quite a storm for early in the season. I do not have a gauge to measure the wind but it was strong enough we never went outside. It was a Doozie,” Illoway concluded, as he spoke for most Cheyenne residents.

Saddest story I heard was about Dean and Kathi McKee of Lander. They were headed to Casper to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale. They had intended to join their daughter and her husband on a Caribbean Cruise to Jamaica.  They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

They made it to Casper but their flight was cancelled.  They could not make it to Denver on time so headed back home.  They ended up spending the night in a rustic nine-room motel in Jeffrey City.

When they went to get breakfast next door the next morning, the restaurant service was slow because the exhausted bartender had been serving drinks to stranded travelers until 4 a.m.  He was asleep in a lounge chair.

Kathi reported: “The people who own the hotel are the freaking best!”

She said: “A snowplow did come to escort us and eight other vehicles safely out of Jeffrey City on a closed road. Thank you WYDOT!”

Apparently there were a dozen carloads of folks stranded down the road at Muddy Gap, too.  Three Forks convenience center there takes good care of people.

Wyoming’s biggest heroes during the holidays were Highway Patrolman Sam Szott and an unidentified passing motorist who saved a person’s life in a terrible crash near Wheatland.

Just after midnight on Tuesday, Szott saw a pickup on fire down the embankment.  The driver was unresponsive and the two men got him out before the entire truck was engulfed in flames.  The driver recovered later. 

Press reports stated: “Without this trooper’s actions and the Good Samaritan’s actions, this guy wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to be around for the holidays,” Lt. Kyle McKay said. “By their quick thinking, they saved this guy’s life.”

Kudos go out to Gary Michaud who runs the Wind River Transportation Authority in Fremont County. His crew sent a bus to Laramie to pick up Lander and Riverton UW students so these young people would not be out driving on dangerous roads.

One of those students was my grandson, so this is a pretty great service it seems to me.  Wonder if any other counties in Wyoming are providing this service?  If not, maybe they should.

Fremont County students headed back to Laramie Sunday in the safety of the bus, being helmed this time by Del Nelson.

Dave “Pop” Lukens was visiting Minneapolis prior to the storm. He says: “Donna and I were in MSP for Thanksgiving with our other two grandkids.  There is this web site called morecast.com where you can find out the weather for your route and we plugged in our trip back to Lander on Friday. 

“At 3 a.m. mountain time, we got an alert from this web site that said, “LEAVE NOW! And we did.  We drove those 970 miles in fog, snow, black ice, and heavy snow from Shoshoni to Lander. And with stops, somehow we averaged 66.8 mph including potty and gas stops.   

“Now keep in mind that all the signs said to turn off cruise control, so I did, but that resulted in much higher speeds. Happy we didn’t get stuck behind a big RV.” 

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

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