When Wyoming gets blasted by torrential wind, the tiny community of Clark near the Montana border says, “Hold my beer.” And that beer immediately gets blown away in a triple-digit gust in the windiest place in the state.
Wyoming is known for its intense windstorms, which create winter whiteout conditions, topple semitrailers and frequently close interstates. And no place in the Cowboy State gets it worse than Clark.
No matter which way the wind is howling, Clark consistently blows every other community away with the strongest recorded gusts.
And yet, the community continues to thrive. More than 300 people call the unincorporated area of Park County home, which means they’re willing to endure everything the windswept plain can throw at them — which can be quite a bit, depending on the day.
When any other Wyoming community has wind gusts of 80 mph, it’s a noteworthy event. That’s an average day in Clark, which regularly records gusts over 100 mph.
In December 2021, a wind gust of 118 mph was recorded by the National Weather Service. A windstorm in April 2022 recorded a gust at 128 mph.
The Windy Non-City
Jacinta Schneider spent her entire childhood in Clark and described the experience as “unpredictable and sometimes brutal.”
“If you live somewhere without very much plant life to anchor the dirt and sand down, the wind will pick it up, and you will get sandblasted with it,” she told Cowboy State Daily.
A blast of sand in the face could be considered “getting off easy,” Schneider said, because it’s even worse in winter.
“Sometimes the wind would make the snow drift so high the school buses couldn’t run and we’d be late for school,” she said. “You’d walk sideways, so at least it wasn’t blowing in your face and down the front of your coat.”
During one winter windstorm, the gusts were strong enough to snap a power pole in half at the middle. Schneider said she’s seen and heard of much larger things getting blown away, sometimes into other homes or people.
Clark residents have learned to cope, settling near trees that can partially block the wind’s intensity. There are several trees standing in Clark, which is saying something, but Schneider said it’s important to take immediate action when dangerous winds pick up.
“You would always hear stories of people’s trampolines blowing away or parts of roofs,” she said. “One time, a 96-gallon trashcan blew into my parents’ yard.”
The way of the wind in Clark is finders’ keepers, Schneider said, adding that, “We kept it and used it in the garage.”
Comes With The Territory
Nobody who lives in Clark, or plans to move, there can say the wind caught them off guard. Some people might say the wind has become worse in recent years, but Clark was founded in an area that was always destined to get carried away.
The community of Clark is named for the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River, a 150-mile-long tributary that flows from the Beartooth Mountains through a magnificent canyon and popular recreation area. Perhaps that’s what attracted the first people to build their homes there and ultimately doomed Clark to a blustery eternity.
Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day says the Clarks Fork Canyon is the main reason why Clark is so windy.
“Think of the wind like a fluid, and imagine the air being pushed down the Clarks Fork,” he said. “When you squeeze a fluid, you increase its speed. These west-to-east trending canyons river systems coming out of Wyoming’s mountains tend to focus the wind. And Clark is right at the mouth of the canyon.”
Day said Clarks Fork Canyon is essentially the thumb on the end of a hose, restricting the strong flow of the water coming out of it. In this analogy, Clark is peering into the end of the hose and wondering why it's getting so painfully wet.
“Clark is in an area where the air and wind want to move,” he said. “The terrain lines up with the prevailing winds. Whoever decided to settle Clark put it right into the jaws of a high wind area.”
‘Normal’ Is Relative
Randi Slaughter moved to Clark from Virginia in 2005 and told Cowboy State Daily that very often, what are considered “normal” wind speeds in Clark “would have been called a hurricane back on the East Coast.”
She said locals have “at least a basic weather station” at their homes where they monitor the conditions. “We’ve gone through several anemometers since moving here. I think we’re on No. 4 now.”
Whoever built their garage, barn and hay barn fortified them with hurricane straps,” Slaughter said.
“I was impressed when I first saw that,” she said. “We lived inland in Virginia, but the occasional hurricane did send some wind our way, so I was familiar with them.”
One story locals around Clark share is about when work crews were building the Chief Joseph road through the canyon, she said.
“The first version I heard was that the newly laid asphalt was rolled up the next day when the workers arrived,” Slaughter said. “Another version I heard more recently was that the heavy equipment was parked off to the side after the end of a work day, and the next morning it had all been moved around.
“Regardless, you can see where (the road) was plotted out further into the canyon, but it never got built there.”
Then there was the time last April when a huge gust of wind tore a 4-ton horse trailer off its hitch and sent it rolling like a tumbleweed.
Blown Out Of Proportion?
There’s no denying that Clark is windy, and that will never change. But for people like Schneider and Slaughter, who call Clark home, that’s not enough to detract from the positive aspects of living there.
“A lot of people like the space and the quiet away from towns and cities,” Schneider said. “My parents still live there, and I do enjoy visiting them because I get to see all their cute goats and horses, animals that would be harder to keep in town.”
Even Clark’s most blowhard critics would have a hard time denying the natural beauty of the community, nestled near the feet of the Beartooths with a vast open sky. Schneider said a night in Clark is enough to put the rest of northwest Wyoming to shame.
“Powell and Cody aren’t exactly big cities, but I still notice the noise and the light pollution,” she said. “The most incredible night skies I've ever seen have been in Clark. I remember watching meteor showers with my dad right off our front porch and the comet a few years ago with my brothers.”
And it’s not always windy. But when it blows, it blows with everything it’s got.
There’s an innate attraction to Clark, especially for those that choose to live there. But is that enough for someone like Schneider to make a permanent home in Clark?
“I don't know if I would move back there permanently,” she said, “but I get the appeal and still love to visit.”
For those like Slaughter who still live there, dealing with the wind is simple common sense.
“We’ve come to learn to make sure anything that will stay outside should be tied down,” she said. “This includes the welcome mat by our back door.”