Wyoming Highways A Gallery Of Black Ice, Blowing Snow And Pileups

Several of Wyoming's state and federal highways were either closed or under high-impact advisories for black ice, stalled vehicles and extreme blow-over risks after a Thanksgiving storm dumped more than 20 inches of snow across the state.

AR
Andrew Rossi

November 24, 20235 min read

A semitrailer was torn open, spilling a load of ground beef across Interstate 80 Thursday evening after a pileup involving several semitrailers.
A semitrailer was torn open, spilling a load of ground beef across Interstate 80 Thursday evening after a pileup involving several semitrailers. (Wyoming Highway Patrol)

A Thanksgiving snowstorm that blanketed Wyoming on Thursday and Friday has become the first serious test for the Wyoming Department of Transportation and Wyoming Highway Patrol this winter.

More than 24 hours since the snow started falling, many of the state’s highways and interstates — especially between Cheyenne and Laramie — remain either completely or partially closed. Most others are under travel restrictions while snowfall records are being broken and windchills dip into the negatives overnight.

Just how much snow Wyoming residents are dealing with depends on where they live. Folks in the central and southwest parts of the state are digging out from record snowfall while others in northeast Wyoming barely got a couple of inches.

Riverton saw a record 19.2 inches fall during the storm, said Chris Hattings, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office there.

Other parts of Fremont County, including Lander, got up to 2 feet of the white stuff, he said.

Cheyenne got nearly 8 inches of snow, while the storm for the most part spared the northeast corner of the Cowboy State, with the NWS office in Rapid City, South Dakota, reporting about 2 inches for Gillette, 3 inches for Newcastle and barely more than an inch in Rozet.

Happy Thanksgiving

There’s no place like home for the holidays, especially Thanksgiving weekend.

But getting from place to place around Wyoming beginning Thursday afternoon became difficult, if not downright hazardous.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation reports highways and interstates remain a gallery of black ice, treacherous conditions and travel advisories and closures.

The snow has slowed or stopped in much of the state, and is expected to be done by Saturday morning.

The sudden influx of snow and freezing temperatures preceded by weeks of warm, dry weather has made this a perfect storm (and perfect hell) for travelers.

Travel Impacts (And There’s A Lot)

Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Laramie was closed because of a crash Friday evening without a firm estimation of when it could reopen.

WDOT reports conditions as “slick in spots with dangerous winds and blowing snow.”

Over the 24-hours of the worst of the storm, the Wyoming Highway Patrol responded to crashes on both sides of the highway, including one that involved several semitrailers.

On Highway 287 between Laramie and Fort Collins, Colorado, the black ice was so bad it caused multiple crashes Thursday evening, including a report of an overturned bus, that closed the road. Cowboy State Daily didn’t received a response from the Wyoming Highway Patrol for information on the bus crash report.

Meanwhile, unnecessary travel is prohibited on most other Wyoming state and federal highways, like most of I-25 between Casper and Cheyenne, due to black ice and “extreme blow-over risk.” WYDOT still ranks most routes as completely or partially “High Impact” and should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

WYDOT reminds drivers stranded on any closed routes that parking on a highway during a closure is prohibited and inhibits a timely reopening. Anyone needing assistance should contact the Wyoming Highway Patrol.

The Wyoming Highway Patrol announced as of Friday evening it had investigated 86 crashes and assisted 93 stranded motorists over a 36-hour period. Many of those calls were because of ongoing snow, in addition to black ice impacts and crashes.

Saw It Coming

Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day anticipated that there would be severe travel impacts from this storm, given Wyoming’s mild weather for most of November.

“The snow is going to melt at first,” he told Cowboy State Daily earlier this week in anticipation of the storm. “But the arctic air that comes in will ice things up. There’s going to be melting, then freezing, then snow accumulating on top of that.”

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, troopers also got involved in a vehicle pursuit overnight Thursday. A stolen vehicle out of Colorado was recorded speeding over 100 mph near Laramie on the hazardous roads before leading officers on dirt roads and through fences near Wamsutter.

When the vehicle became inoperable, three suspects attempted to flee on foot. They were all located and arrested, which was good for them in the sub-freezing temperatures with dangerous winds.

Snow Totals

Along with the record in Riverton (the old record was 17 inches set April 1, 1979), snow totals varied widely across the state, according to the National Weather Service. A few totals:

  • Cheyenne: 7.5 inches

  • Meeteetse: 9 inches

  • Lander: 18-24 inches

  • Natrona County: 2-11 inches

  • Casper: 10 inches

  • Park County: 9 inches

  • Dubois: 10 inches

  • Jackson: 4 inches in town, 7 inches in the mountains

  • Southwest: 3-6 inches

  • Gillette: 2 inches

  • Savageton: 7 inches

  • Wright: 4.6 inches

  • Newcastle: 3 inches

  • Sheridan: 4 inches

That Fremont County seems to have been hit the hardest doesn’t surprise Day, who said this weather pattern historically hits the Lander region hard.

“The storm went about as expected,” he said.

How Much More?

A Winter Storm Warning remains in effect for the southeast corner of Wyoming, including Cheyenne, through Saturday morning. Snow showers are expected, along with wind chills as low as minus 5 degrees.

Patching and blowing snow will be a hazard on all federal and state highways in southern Wyoming all day Saturday and into Sunday. However, no further snow is anticipated and temperatures will rise to as high as 30 degrees.

Stay Informed

The best way to stay informed on traffic conditions and weather impacts on Wyoming’s highways is by downloading WYDOT’s 511 app, available for free in all app stores and on WYDOT’s 511 website.

Travelers can also get up-to-date traffic information on the WYDOT website, on the Facebook group Wyoming Road and Weather Conditions Reports Updates. However, they are advised to stay off their smartphones and mobile devices when driving.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect conditions as of Friday night.

  • Traffic was at a standstill Thursday in the first hours of a major snowstorm that caused several crashes around the state and closed Interstate 80 for a time because of this one.
    Traffic was at a standstill Thursday in the first hours of a major snowstorm that caused several crashes around the state and closed Interstate 80 for a time because of this one. (Wyoming Highway Patrol)
  • Traffic is at a standstill as the snow falls Thursday.
    Traffic is at a standstill as the snow falls Thursday. (Via Facebook)
  • Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers were busy all night responding to crashes because of the slick roads and blowing snow.
    Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers were busy all night responding to crashes because of the slick roads and blowing snow. (Wyoming Highway Patrol)

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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