By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Northeastern Wyoming was pummeled by a strong winter storm over the weekend, with Campbell County receiving a near-record 19 inches of snow between Saturday and Sunday.
The 19-inch snowfall over the two-day period was the second-highest amount of snowfall the city has seen in the 120 years the weather service has been monitoring the area, according to the National Weather Service office in Rapid City, South Dakota. The record for the most snow to fall within a two-day period in Gillette was 21 inches over April 30 and May 1, 1967.
Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day said that while the snowstorm was rough on residents in the short-term, it was ultimately a good thing for the area, which is in a severe drought.
“This was the most significant storm to hit northeastern Wyoming in months,” he said. “Most of the reports I’m seeing show the northeastern counties getting anywhere from 1 inch to 3 inches of water from the snowfall, which is huge. Some of these places average 15 to 16 inches (of precipitation) a year and with one storm, they saw maybe a quarter of their annual precipitation.”
While Day said he believed this would be the last major blizzard the area, and state, would see for the season, he could not rule out large amount of snow still falling between now and mid-May.
“Is this the last chance for a blizzard threat? Probably. Is this the last chance for a big snow? Probably not,” he said. “We have to get through the next three weeks before we’re out of the woods just yet.”
Campbell County resident Acacia Acord said the storm was a double-edged sword for the rural community.
While the moisture was “sorely” needed, she added that it came at a cost — the deaths of several calves on her ranch. She was unsure of the final count of livestock lost due to the storm.
“The immediate damages have shown their ugly head in the form of finding calves pastured close to our houses who froze or were suffocated by the snow, but we may not know the total number of losses until later,” she said. “This will come when the ground is dry or frozen enough to make it deeper into other pastures. We can only hope for more stable temperatures in order to stave off any sickness a roller coaster of weather can trigger in cattle.”
However, she did point out that the snowstorm did bring some good news. She said she believed the heavy, wet snow would give pastures enough moisture grow grass this spring.
“With two dry summers and winters behind us, this year could be a tipping point for many ranchers that have managed to hang on this long,” Acord said. “Dry pastures not only mean no grass but also no hay crop, leading local ranchers to buy from neighboring, or further away, areas and deal with soaring feed costs, plus rapidly increasing fuel expenses to get that feed where it needs to be.”
Gillette resident Drea Hespen told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that she took advantage of the snowy weekend, something she has not been able to do in several years after moving to California for a time.
“Believe it or not, I left Napa Valley, California, early to make it home just before the weather hit this weekend,” she said. “I was able to have fun in the snow and simply appreciate the beauty of its white sparkle and picture-worthy paintings, when the wind isn’t blowing 90 mph.”
Over the weekend, Hespen played with her dogs in the snow and even built an impressive snowman, known as “Buff Frosty.”
But she also knew that while she was out having a great time in the snow, ranchers in the area, like Acord, were struggling with the late spring blizzard.
“Though there is so much to be thankful for, I would be shocked if there is a rancher out there that did not lose one calf, cow, foal, sheep or any other living creature to this storm,” Hespen said. “Ranching is not for the faint of heart. You ranchers have my utmost respect. I’ve been there and done that and it’s no cake walk, yet you choose to do it every day. I commend you.”