Bill Sniffin: A Season Called ‘Sprinter’ Is Chilling Wyoming This Time Of Year

Bill Sniffin writes: “Some locals love to tease tourists by telling them that these are not snow fences, but bleachers for folks watching the antelope races.”

Bill Sniffin

March 28, 20236 min read

Bill Sniffin lots of snow 1 16 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Bill Sniffin: A Season Called ‘Sprinter’ Is Chilling Wyoming This Time Of Year

We used to think Wyoming had four seasons: almost winter, winter, still winter and construction.

But lately, I’ve heard about some other names for parts of the winter season. My favorite is one “sprinter,” which means the weather cannot decide if it is spring or still winter. 

Former Lander Mayor Del McOmie shared these funny weather descriptions that he found on the Wyoming Going Blue Facebook page, which is all about law enforcement in the state.

It includes 12 seasons:

1. Winter

2. Arctic freeze

3. Second winter

4. Spring of deception

5. Semitruck tipping season

6. Sprinter

7. Actual spring (lasts two weeks)

8. Construction season

9. Torrential downpour

10. Cheyenne Frontier Days hail season

11. Summer

12. Pre-winter; fall snow

Winter’s False Ending

Both in the movie business and the book business, there is the concept of “false ending,” where you as the viewer or reader think the story is over. 

Not so. Later, the ultimate ending arrives. 

Just about every movie or book uses this device. 

This also applies to Wyoming’s weather during this time of year.

As part of our recent travels during this wet and crazy spring, I heard an expression by an Omaha TV weather reporter who kept referring to their all-time-record cold weather as coming after they had had a “false” spring. 

We spent some interesting times across the country this winter. And we will admit to getting the heck out of Wyoming a few times to avoid this winter season, which is the worst in 40 years. 

Back in the 1970s, we had two winters that might have been worse than this one. 

In my hometown of Lander, we had 216 inches of snow in 1972-73. In 1978-79, the mercury dipped to record lows. It dipped to minus 40. That was the year that Jackson saw minus 60 over a New Year’s holiday where the power went out in the valley.

Interstate 80 also has been a nightmare this season.

Ah, Those Snow Fences

Somewhere along that road there should be a monument to the late Ronald Tabler. In fact there are, lots of them. 

He was the designer of the ubiquitous Wyoming snow fence, the best in the world.

Tabler was the guy who studied and studied until he came up with a design that does not seem to make any sense – that is, unless you are a snowstorm. 

His fences have big gaps in them, which apparently provide enough push and pull to create huge banks of snow both in front of and behind the fence. I don’t care which side of the fence that snowbank is on, as long as it is not on the highway.

Some locals love to tease tourists by telling them that these are not snow fences, but bleachers for folks watching the antelope races.

As stated in this space before, Wyoming’s winds are so unusually strong that road crews often have to use heavier-than-normal sand to keep from being blown away.

To that end, you hear “thank you” from a hundred different body shops and glass shops. 

Last time I checked, the windshield in my rig has three of those little chip repairs, any of which could have erupted into a big crack had I not gotten it fixed right away.

Another thing I whine a lot about are all the big trucks on Interstate 80. I think they should have a permanent slower speed limit, especially during bad weather. 

The truckers’ lobby is a powerful one, that’s for sure, but fewer than 2% of all the trucks on Interstate 80 are from Wyoming, anyway. Where else are they going to travel?

No other interstate I have been on has the number of semitrailers as Interstate 80. Interstate 90 is a comparatively pleasant roadway because of the lack of trucks. 

A recent statistic says that nearly 60% of all the traffic on Interstate 80 is semitrailer trucks. That statistic is amazing, that is, until you go drive that road and experience it for yourself.

Although driving Interstate 80 at any time can be treacherous, this time of year is when things can get really interesting.

Interstate War Stories

In most parts of the country, people have war stories to tell each other about the weather. Here in Wyoming, we obsess about our experiences on Interstate 80 across the southern tier of the state. 

There have been many horrific and fatal crashes on that road, some involving dozens of vehicles. The most recent happened Jan. 22 this year when five young people from Arkansas were killed when a wrong-way driver on I-80 caused a multi-vehicle crash across both lanes of the highway near the Sinclair exit. 

When it comes to the roadway itself, again I would like to see semitrailers have their own separate lane. How many of these drivers are inexperienced when it comes to ice? How many are tired and bleary-eyed? How many are abusing substances?

And there you are in your little car dodging these behemoths as you fight your way across the snow-covered hills, valleys and mountains of southern Wyoming. 

Outside of Rawlins, Laramie and other places, Interstate 80 has three lanes, and that is a real luxury. However, the rest of the area can get pretty congested.

Not all is bad news. 

It needs to be said that Interstate 80 across Wyoming is a darned good surface compared to this interstate in other parts of the country. And I think WYDOT does a terrific job. 

My comments here are primarily directed at the weather conditions and the fear that I personally experience when being escorted by 40-ton monsters on all sides during all kinds of oddball weather at high speeds.

For me, a typical trip across Wyoming starts out west. 

In bad weather, first you have to get past the Sisters outside of Evanston and Kemmerer, then the long pull past Elk Mountain and the abrupt climb over the summit (between Laramie and Cheyenne), plus all the places in-between. Lots of potential excitement while driving in these areas.

The number of trucks lumbering back and forth from the coasts on Interstate 80 truly does make it the transportation lifeblood of the country. I wonder if anyone has ever estimated the tonnage that travels this road during the course of a year? It must be billions of tons. 

And surely it must be our busiest transcontinental road.

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.