Wyoming's Extreme ‘Whiplash Winter’ About To Start Settling Down

Wyoming residents can expect a return to winter this week after months of what meteorologist Don Day calls “whiplash winter," with record cold followed by spring-like days with highs in the 60s.

AR
Andrew Rossi

February 05, 20244 min read

A Jekyll-and-Hyde El Niño system that's gripped Wyoming this winter is turning unseasonably warm again, with temperatures about 45 Thursday afternoon quickly melting the snow at Holiday Park in Cheyenne.
A Jekyll-and-Hyde El Niño system that's gripped Wyoming this winter is turning unseasonably warm again, with temperatures about 45 Thursday afternoon quickly melting the snow at Holiday Park in Cheyenne. (Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily)

Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day has declared the 2023-2024 winter season’s extreme swings from brutal cold to springlike days in the 60s as “Wyoming’s whiplash winter.”

“It's been that kind of winter,” he said. “You get one extreme, and then we go back to the other. It’s never really settled in the middle.”

“Whiplash winter” is doubly appropriate. It refers to the sudden, extreme shifts in temperature and precipitation and, in Day’s opinion, the surprisingly short memories of Wyomingites.

“I have been amazed at how many people forgot that we were setting record lows,” he said. “We were 30 to 35 (degrees) below zero for many days in a row, then we had a week of spring-like weather and everybody just forgot about it.”

Weekend Weather Wrap-Up

A decent amount of snow fell in the Wyoming mountains over the weekend after week that say most areas of the state have highs in the 50s and 60s.

Day admits that “we need more” storms like this past weekend’s given the below-average snowpacks across the state, but every raindrop and snowflake is welcome at this point in the season.

“From my standpoint, it went about as expected,” he said. “You had to be above 6,000 feet for (the snow) to really accumulate. A lot of the moisture rain was rained out on the eastern plains with that warmer spring-like pattern.”

The weather pattern that brought the moisture technically isn’t over yet. Jackson and much of western Wyoming are under winter weather warnings and advisories through Tuesday morning.

Day said there’s plenty of moisture for the entire state, but for now it can’t escape the mountains of western Wyoming.

“There's a lot of moisture going into the western mountains, but it’s not getting past the mountains right now,” he said. “The western mountains and valleys are going to see snow here today and into tomorrow, while the rest of the state is going to have nothing going on today and Tuesday.”

Going Without

Even when needed winter weather has reached the Cowboy State, it’s been disproportionately impactful. While western and southern Wyoming accumulate more snow, northern Wyoming has stayed dry and barren.

In Day’s analysis, it’s a natural consequence of this winter’s weather patterns. Northern Wyoming isn’t destined to stay dry, but those communities could gaze south with envy.

“As we go through the rest of the season through spring, the central and southern areas are going to get more (moisture) than the north,” he said. “I'm not saying that the north will be completely dry. It's just not going to do as well.”

Nevertheless, Day doesn’t see this disparity as abnormal. His historical analysis holds that December, January and February are the driest months of the year, and several months are ahead to make up for lost time and snowpack.

Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

The Whiplash Winter is ongoing, but Day said subzero stability is coming. Any Wyomingites who go to bed on Tuesday evening expecting a dry commute Wednesday morning will probably wake up with a wintry outlook.

“Wednesday through the weekend, it's going to get colder and unsettled statewide,” he said. “There will be off-and-on mountain snow and scattered snow across the plains. It’s nothing big, but from Wednesday through Sunday, it's going to be colder and more like winter statewide.”

This should be welcome news for northern Wyoming and Montana. Those areas, especially northeast Wyoming, can expect some accumulating snow they’ve gone without so far.

This is still the whiplash winter, but Day believes the worst of the whiplash has come and gone. There are chilly storm clouds on the horizon, and they could be settling in for an extended stay.

“I don't think the whiplash is going to be as ‘whiplashy’ for the rest of the season,” he said. “It's going to be a little more consistently winter now from here on out.”

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

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Andrew Rossi

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