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Update: Highways, offices to remain closed Thursday as major storm pummels Wyoming

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Update from our Robert Geha in the midst of this winter bomb cyclone.

By Cowboy State Daily (Editor’s note: this story will be updated throughout the day. Last updated 7:00PM, March 13, 2019.)

Traffic in southeastern Wyoming ground to a halt on Wednesday as interstate, U.S. and state highways throughout the region were closed by a strong winter storm.

Businesses, schools and government offices in Cheyenne shut down as the storm raged through the region, with heavy snow and winds gusting to more than 50 mph dropping visibility to near zero.

A number, including Laramie County School Districts No. 1 and 2 and the Laramie County government offices, planned to remain closed through Thursday, when the storm hammering an area from Denver to the Dakotas was expected to release its grip on the region.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning through Thursday night for Laramie and Goshen counties and for the western Nebraska panhandle.

The City of Cheyenne, Laramie County School District No. 1 and the Cheyenne Regional Airport made their decisions Tuesday to close for Wednesday and the State of Wyoming followed suit early Wednesday morning, when Gov. Mark Gordon urged people to stay out of the weather.

“This storm has the potential to be particularly dangerous,” he said in a news release. “My advice is to stay put and shelter in place. Stay home, stay off the roads and stay safe and warm.”

Echoing that advice was the state Department of Homeland Security’s Deputy Director Leland Christensen.

“The message from Homeland Security is take care of your family, stay home and no unnecessary travel,” he said. “If there is a problem, rather than venture out, reach out to your officials and see if we can’t get you some help.”

As conditions deteriorated Wednesday, the Wyoming Department of Transportation closed Interstate 80 from Cheyenne west to Rock Springs and north to Buffalo. Accidents dotted Interstate 80 from Cheyenne to Rawlins.

U.S. and state highways throughout southeastern Wyoming were closed due to slick conditions and limited visibility. The Wyoming Transportation Department offered no estimate for when the roads might be open again.

As roads in and out of Cheyenne closed, truck drivers parked at truck stops or on roads nearby and prepared to spend a day or two waiting for the highways to open again.

At the Flying J Travel Center south of Cheyenne, employees said all 195 of the facility’s semi truck parking spaces were full.

“We have lots of drivers here,” said Amanda Gladgo. “They’re parked on the roads, too.”

Scattered power outages were also reported in rural Laramie County and near Glendo.

Storm conditions prompted the Red Cross to open a shelter at the Converse County National Guard Armory.

The storm was predicted to be the most widespread blizzard in almost 40 years, stretching from Denver north through southeastern Wyoming and into the Nebraska panhandle and Dakotas.

The historic nature of the storm drew a crew from The Weather Channel to Cheyenne on Wednesday.

A number of communities across southern and eastern Wyoming joined Cheyenne in shutting down schools and government offices, including Torrington, Laramie, Casper, Newcastle, Glendo and Chugwater. The University of Wyoming closed its classes at about 1 p.m. Wednesday.

A list of items to keep on hand for emergencies

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As a major winter storm bore down on Wyoming on Tuesday, residents were reminded to be prepared for power outages and blocked roads by assembling their own “two-week ready kits.”

The Department of Homeland Security recommends families keep the kits stocked with enough food and water for three days and sufficient supplies of other good for up to two weeks.

“We used to tell people to be ready for three days,” said Kelly Ruiz, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security. “If we have power outages, it could take longer than three days to get it fixed.”

The kits consist of:

  • Water and food to maintain your family for three days,
  • Utensils, plates, cups and a can opener,
  • Clothes (be sure to pack items to keep you warm if you have to go without heat and items that will cover your arms and legs in case you need to evacuate.)
  • Rain gear
  • Durable shoes with thick soles,
  • Sleeping bags or blankets,
  • Cash and/or travelers checks, 
  • Financial plan and documents,
  • Personal hygiene items including toilet paper, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and moist towlettes,
  • Garbage bags,
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape for doors and windows,
  • Copies of important documents such as driver’s licemses, social security cards and insurance policies,
  • Scissors and/or a knife,
  • Maps of local area and the addresses of the closest shelters,
  • Matches in a waterproof container,
  • Additional tools such as pliers, flares and wrenches,
  • Papers, pens and pencils,
  • Flashlights,
  • A battery or crank operated radio,
  • Extra batteries,
  • First aid kit

Breaking: Schools, government offices close in face of storm predictions

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By Cowboy State Daily

Schools and non-essential government offices in Cheyenne will be closed on Wednesday due to predictions of a winter storm expected to bring up to 20 inches of snow to the high plains by Thursday morning.

Laramie County School District No. 1 officials announced Tuesday that classes would be canceled Wednesday because of the storm forecast to bring winds of up to 65 mph in addition to heavy snow.

“District officials typically do not cancel school based on a weather forecast,” the district said in a news release. “However, in this situation, anticipated storm impacts including heavy snow and sustained wind gusts will take place at the time when school would release. Our primary concern is the safety of our students, parents and staff.”

Cheyenne officials announced non-emergency offices would be closed Wednesday, while the Cheyenne Regional Airport canceled all flights for Wednesday.

“Based on what (the National Weather Service is) telling us, we’re already canceling all commercial flights in anticipation of closing down the airport, probably around mid-morning,” said Nathan Banton, the airport’s general manager for aviation.

The storm moving northeast toward Wyoming was expected to arrive late Tuesday evening, after a day that saw sunny skies and high temperatures in the low to mid-50s.

“We have … what I call a textbook March snowstorm,” said Don Day, a meteorologist and owner of Day Weather. “The type of snowstorm … where we get heavy snow, a lot of wind and then springlike weather before and after.”

Forecasts called for snow reaching 10 to 15 inches across much of the plains, spreading from Denver north to the Nebraska panhandle, with heavier amounts expected in the north, where accumulations could reach 20 inches.

The National Weather Service said the impact from the storm could be the most widespread seen in almost 40 years.

“With this storm, we’ve got 10 to 15 inches of snow over much of the plains and into the Dakotas,” said Richard Emanuel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne. “So the area of impact is quite broad.”

Government agencies worked through the day Tuesday to make sure emergency measures were in place for the storm.

Jeanine West, director of the Laramie County Emergency Management Agency, said her organization was working with state and county and city officials to determine how best to deal with workers should travel be affected by the snow. In addition, she said the organization was working with the Red Cross to make sure shelters would be ready if needed.

West said her agency was even working to make sure additional parking space would be available should the storm stop truck traffic through Cheyenne.

State officials had not made any decision to close operations in advance of the storm Tuesday, but were keeping a close eye on conditions.

“We’re just watching the weather,” said Rachel Girt, spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Gordon.

Travel conditions were expected to deteriorate through the day Wednesday and Kevin Malatesta, public information officer for the Cheyenne Police Department, urged people to avoid traveling at all during the storm.

“If you really don’t meed to be out on the road, don’t go out on the road,” he said. “You are creating a hazard by being out on the road and tying up resources if you are in an accident. Stay warm, watch some Netflix, knit a sweater, do whatever you need to do, but you don’t need to go out on the road. Things can wait.”

Don’t put away your snow shovels just yet…

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In Wyoming, we get our biggest snow storms in the March, April, and May.

We get you up to speed on what to expect from spring weather with Don Day.

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