By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
A major spring snow storm dumped more than 3 feet of snow on northwest Wyoming over the Memorial Day weekend, stranding dozens of travelers on the Chief Joseph Highway.
Dozens of people caught in the storm that closed Wyoming Highway 296, which connects Cody to Cooke City, Montana, and the Beartooth Highway, had to be rescued by Department of Transportation personnel, according to Cody Beers, a department public relations specialist.
“There were vehicles blocked there last night and spun out on the road,” Beers told Cowboy State Daily midday Monday. “There’s at least two feet of snow up on (Dead Indian Pass) and there was a pretty good line of cars, 10 to 12 cars backed up.”
To make matters worse, Beers said a pickup with a camper in the back had spun out, blocking the road for oncoming traffic.
As of late Monday morning, however, Beers said a WYDOT loader had arrived and was clearing the road so vehicles could pass.
“He’s been digging a trail down through the road,” he said, “and I’m sure he’s going to go clear to the bottom and see if there’s other people spun out on the switchbacks on the backside of Dead Indian (Pass).”
Additionally, Beers told Cowboy State Daily a power line had come down on the highway due to the heavy, wet snow, creating dangerous sparks.
“They had to wait for Rocky Mountain Power to remove the line,” he said, “So (snow removal crews are) trying to catch up now.”
The National Weather Service and Cowboy State Daily’s Don Day had predicted a major winter storm for the state’s northern and central mountains.
“There were warnings put out for 1 to 2 feet in the mountains and it looks like the National Weather Service hit a bullseye,” Beers said, “because it’s deep wet, heavy snow.
“I mean, it’s multimillion dollar snow right now for our farmlands and our mountains,” he continued, “but it comes on a holiday weekend when a lot of people are out there camping, weather forecast be damned.”
Beers urged people to stay off the highways if possible.
“I’m sure people made the decision to try to get out of (the mountains), and then it only took one vehicle to get stopped, to stop the entire convoy of vehicles coming out,” he said.
Chief Joseph was only one of the highways closed due to weather this weekend. Sylvan Pass closed at 6:30 a.m. Monday, cutting off the only access to Yellowstone from the East Gate; U.S Highway 14A was closed from Lovell to Dayton over the Bighorn Mountains, and Beartooth Pass, which was scheduled to open for the season this weekend, remained closed due to the winter storm.