By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
A video (now deleted) has been watched thousands of times since it was uploaded to YouTube over the weekend: A 4,000-pound trailer loaded with supplies for a Lander business ripped the bumper off a pickup and was tossed across the road by wind gusts registering more than 110 mph Saturday.
The driver of the pickup, Bill Dike, told Cowboy State Daily he made the decision to drive over South Pass coming from Salt Lake City based on dynamic message signs (DMS) erected by the Wyoming Department of Transportation, which warned of high winds – but nothing he hadn’t navigated in the past.
“The road sign said 60 mph gusts, which anybody in Wyoming has driven a trailer with 60 mph gusts,” Dike said. “We got to Red Canyon, it was 110 and it flipped my trailer.”
Dike – who has been the target of derisive comments on social media since the video was released – is primarily frustrated because he didn’t have the information he needed to make an informed decision whether or not to drive the highway with the weather conditions as they were.
“I’ve driven almost 1.5 million miles without any accidents whatsoever,” Dike said. “There’s a big difference between 60 mph gusts and 111 mph gusts.”
Cellphone Dead Zone
Sarah Dike, Bill’s wife, posted on Facebook that the lack of cell service played a part in not being able to access current weather conditions.
“On South Pass we don’t have cell service from 5 miles out of Farson until pulling into Lander, except sometimes at Red Canyon,” she said. “Ironically, where we were blown off the road.”
The DMS on the west side of South Pass warned travelers Saturday that there had been recorded gusts of 60+ mph, so the road was closed to light and high-profile vehicles.
But Sarah noted that because their trailer wasn’t light (it was 4,000 pounds) nor was it high profile, her husband made the decision to travel over the pass.
“He would have stopped if they were 70+ gusts,” she said. “Unfortunately, the WYDOT sign wasn’t accurate and we had no way to access better information.”
While waiting for a tow truck to arrive, the couple was able to access WYDOT’s atmospheric sensor with their cellphones as they were back within cell signal range.
“The winds were sustained at 70+ and the highest gusts we saw while we were waiting for the tow truck was 108,” she said. “The one in the video that blew our trailer away was 111 mph.”
Dynamic Message Signs
Dike said a snowplow driver who stopped to offer assistance after the accident was very understanding and told Dike that he had attempted to notify WYDOT that the DMS needed to be updated.
“He said, ‘You know, I told them an hour ago they need to change the sign or we’re gonna have problems,’ and Cheyenne hadn’t done it yet,” said Dike.
But those message boards don’t automatically display up-to-the-minute information, said WYDOT Director Luke Reiner. He told Cowboy State Daily that those warnings must be updated manually.
“Those are not updated automatically,” he said. “So, the warning is, ‘Hey, there’s heavy winds out here.’ So, the best thing to do is, at 60+, it’s time to park it. We’ll keep those DMS’s as updated as we can, but that’s a manual entry and wind changes.”
Know Before You Go
Reiner said that when it comes to driving through Wyoming in the winter months, planning is key – along with a willingness to change plans last minute if weather conditions dictate.
“Just say, ‘Hey, let me look at the forecast,’” he said. “‘Let me get on the 511 site. Let me go to the WYDOT website and see what their forecast is.’”
All of which, Sarah told Cowboy State Daily, she and her husband did before making their decision to drive across South Pass.
“We made an educated decision to continue forward with the information that we had,” she said. “We had no idea that the information we had was incomplete.”
Reiner acknowledged that the lack of cell service between Farson and Red Canyon is a challenge when driving in that part of the state.
“But I think that’s where you say, ‘There’s high winds, and I’ve got a light vehicle, so why don’t we just park the trailer and come back and get it tomorrow,’” he said.
Sarah said she hopes the attention the story has received will send a message to WYDOT that something needs to be done to get more accurate information to drivers.
“Any person that knows anything about towing a vehicle, had they known that the winds were gusting to more than 100 mph, they wouldn’t have been on the road,” she said.