Wyoming’s famously wicked winter winds are expected to blow hard enough over the weekend to push vehicles around and off highways, especially those driving north and south.
With expected gusts of 60 and 70 mph or more, National Weather Service has already issued a Hazardous Weather Outlook for central and western Wyoming, in effect through next Thursday. Light to moderate snow is expected for the duration.
However, one of the greatest hazards is a brief but intense windstorm over the weekend. The NWS anticipates “winds will be strong and gusty for mountains and central Wyoming Saturday night (and) into the day Sunday.”
That could make for some dangerous driving.
“If anybody's traveling on Sunday, they need to hold on tight to the steering wheel,” said Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day.
Where’s The Wind?
When the winds pick up, it’s hard to find a place in Wyoming that isn’t affected. Day said the worst of the weekend wind will be Sunday, and the most impacted areas will be “the usual suspects” that are already problematic on windy occasions.
“That’d be I-25 through Cheyenne up through Wheatland and Chugwater, (Wyoming Highway) 120 near Cody, and a couple of sections of I-80 between Rawlins and Laramie — and obviously the Arlington/Elk Mountain area,” he said.
Day said any section of highway running north-south will feel the brunt of the wind event. Most of I-80 runs east-west, so the state’s busiest thoroughfare (excluding the north-south section) shouldn’t be too hazardous for drivers.
The intensity of the windstorm is up to interpretation. Day anticipates a lot of strong wind gusts, but nothing record-breaking.
“We had wind gusts to 66 mph in Cheyenne yesterday,” he said, “so easily hitting 60 to 70 mph is possible. I think the NWS said there may be gusts up to 90 mph. I’m not so sure about that, but when you get into these high wind environments like this, it's possible to have some really high wind gusts.”
The good news is this windstorm will be strong but short. After an intense Sunday, everything should calm down by the beginning of next week.
In Wyoming, it’s not uncommon for windstorms like these to prompt travel advisories on state and federal highways. Day said anyone driving a lightweight or high-profile vehicle should reconsider their weekend travel plans, especially if those plans include driving on a north-south highway.
“The way the Wyoming Department of Transportation runs it, if you’re looking at certain wind speeds and wind speed thresholds, they don't technically close the road. But they’re telling drivers of some vehicles, lightweight and heavy vehicles, that you're not supposed to be driving,” he said.
WYDOT can close sections of state and federal highways to lightweight and high-profile vehicles if conditions are hazardous enough. Several sections of I-80 were placed under those restricted conditions during the winter storm that effectively closed Wyoming over Thanksgiving weekend.
It’s too early to tell if this weekend’s windstorm will be intense enough to cause travel restrictions, but it doesn’t take much to cause a vehicle blowover. The easiest way to get information on any and all Wyoming road closures is to download WYDOT’s 511 app, available for free in all app stores and on WYDOT’s 511 website.
Andrew Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.