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Gillette Slammed With 19 Inches Of Snow Over Weekend; 2nd Highest Snowfall Record

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Photo by Drea Hespen
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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Northeastern Wyoming was pummeled by a strong winter storm over the weekend, with Campbell County receiving a near-record 19 inches of snow between Saturday and Sunday.

The 19-inch snowfall over the two-day period was the second-highest amount of snowfall the city has seen in the 120 years the weather service has been monitoring the area, according to the National Weather Service office in Rapid City, South Dakota. The record for the most snow to fall within a two-day period in Gillette was 21 inches over April 30 and May 1, 1967.

Cowboy State Daily meteorologist Don Day said that while the snowstorm was rough on residents in the short-term, it was ultimately a good thing for the area, which is in a severe drought.

“This was the most significant storm to hit northeastern Wyoming in months,” he said. “Most of the reports I’m seeing show the northeastern counties getting anywhere from 1 inch to 3 inches of water from the snowfall, which is huge. Some of these places average 15 to 16 inches (of precipitation) a year and with one storm, they saw maybe a quarter of their annual precipitation.”

While Day said he believed this would be the last major blizzard the area, and state, would see for the season, he could not rule out large amount of snow still falling between now and mid-May.

“Is this the last chance for a blizzard threat? Probably. Is this the last chance for a big snow? Probably not,” he said. “We have to get through the next three weeks before we’re out of the woods just yet.”

Campbell County resident Acacia Acord said the storm was a double-edged sword for the rural community.

While the moisture was “sorely” needed, she added that it came at a cost — the deaths of several calves on her ranch. She was unsure of the final count of livestock lost due to the storm.

“The immediate damages have shown their ugly head in the form of finding calves pastured close to our houses who froze or were suffocated by the snow, but we may not know the total number of losses until later,” she said. “This will come when the ground is dry or frozen enough to make it deeper into other pastures. We can only hope for more stable temperatures in order to stave off any sickness a roller coaster of weather can trigger in cattle.”

However, she did point out that the snowstorm did bring some good news. She said she believed the heavy, wet snow would give pastures enough moisture grow grass this spring.

“With two dry summers and winters behind us, this year could be a tipping point for many ranchers that have managed to hang on this long,” Acord said. “Dry pastures not only mean no grass but also no hay crop, leading local ranchers to buy from neighboring, or further away, areas and deal with soaring feed costs, plus rapidly increasing fuel expenses to get that feed where it needs to be.”

Gillette resident Drea Hespen told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that she took advantage of the snowy weekend, something she has not been able to do in several years after moving to California for a time.

“Believe it or not, I left Napa Valley, California, early to make it home just before the weather hit this weekend,” she said. “I was able to have fun in the snow and simply appreciate the beauty of its white sparkle and picture-worthy paintings, when the wind isn’t blowing 90 mph.”

Over the weekend, Hespen played with her dogs in the snow and even built an impressive snowman, known as “Buff Frosty.”

But she also knew that while she was out having a great time in the snow, ranchers in the area, like Acord, were struggling with the late spring blizzard.

“Though there is so much to be thankful for, I would be shocked if there is a rancher out there that did not lose one calf, cow, foal, sheep or any other living creature to this storm,” Hespen said. “Ranching is not for the faint of heart. You ranchers have my utmost respect. I’ve been there and done that and it’s no cake walk, yet you choose to do it every day. I commend you.”

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Antarctica? Cowboy State was a sea of blowing snow during Great Thanksgiving Blizzard

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Snow
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By Bill Sniffin

Travel in Wyoming was horrific on the days leading up to the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday. Heavy snow and high winds struck at least three-fourths of the state. It was a mess.

For a while, the state was land-locked. There were few people able to get in to or out of Wyoming.  Interstate 80 was closed. Interstate 25 was closed. And most other major roads were closed.

Of course, this was occurring on Thanksgiving week and people were on the move.  AAA estimated 55 million would be traveling more than 50 miles and a good number of them planned to head through Wyoming. The snow not only affected people with connections to Wyoming but also folks east and west of the state that were hoping to travel across the state. Not on this week, at least for a while.

Besides highways, there were businesses, schools, colleges, and the University of Wyoming closing early for the holidays because of the storm. 

Last I checked we had 21 inches of snow on the ground at my house in Lander. And yet, we had it pretty good compared to some folks around the state.

Cheyenne was a disaster zone. Pete and Chloe Illoway recently moved north of the capital city and found themselves battered by wind and snow.

“We live in an area they call the ranchettes just south of the Torrington Highway so there is nothing to stop the wind or snow except for shelter belts. Our drifts are hard and high. They may not melt until early spring,” Pete says.

“It was quite a storm for early in the season. I do not have a gauge to measure the wind but it was strong enough we never went outside. It was a Doozie,” Illoway concluded, as he spoke for most Cheyenne residents.

Saddest story I heard was about Dean and Kathi McKee of Lander. They were headed to Casper to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale. They had intended to join their daughter and her husband on a Caribbean Cruise to Jamaica.  They were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

They made it to Casper but their flight was cancelled.  They could not make it to Denver on time so headed back home.  They ended up spending the night in a rustic nine-room motel in Jeffrey City.

When they went to get breakfast next door the next morning, the restaurant service was slow because the exhausted bartender had been serving drinks to stranded travelers until 4 a.m.  He was asleep in a lounge chair.

Kathi reported: “The people who own the hotel are the freaking best!”

She said: “A snowplow did come to escort us and eight other vehicles safely out of Jeffrey City on a closed road. Thank you WYDOT!”

Apparently there were a dozen carloads of folks stranded down the road at Muddy Gap, too.  Three Forks convenience center there takes good care of people.

Wyoming’s biggest heroes during the holidays were Highway Patrolman Sam Szott and an unidentified passing motorist who saved a person’s life in a terrible crash near Wheatland.

Just after midnight on Tuesday, Szott saw a pickup on fire down the embankment.  The driver was unresponsive and the two men got him out before the entire truck was engulfed in flames.  The driver recovered later. 

Press reports stated: “Without this trooper’s actions and the Good Samaritan’s actions, this guy wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to be around for the holidays,” Lt. Kyle McKay said. “By their quick thinking, they saved this guy’s life.”

Kudos go out to Gary Michaud who runs the Wind River Transportation Authority in Fremont County. His crew sent a bus to Laramie to pick up Lander and Riverton UW students so these young people would not be out driving on dangerous roads.

One of those students was my grandson, so this is a pretty great service it seems to me.  Wonder if any other counties in Wyoming are providing this service?  If not, maybe they should.

Fremont County students headed back to Laramie Sunday in the safety of the bus, being helmed this time by Del Nelson.

Dave “Pop” Lukens was visiting Minneapolis prior to the storm. He says: “Donna and I were in MSP for Thanksgiving with our other two grandkids.  There is this web site called morecast.com where you can find out the weather for your route and we plugged in our trip back to Lander on Friday. 

“At 3 a.m. mountain time, we got an alert from this web site that said, “LEAVE NOW! And we did.  We drove those 970 miles in fog, snow, black ice, and heavy snow from Shoshoni to Lander. And with stops, somehow we averaged 66.8 mph including potty and gas stops.   

“Now keep in mind that all the signs said to turn off cruise control, so I did, but that resulted in much higher speeds. Happy we didn’t get stuck behind a big RV.” 

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find more stories by Bill Sniffin by going to CowboyStateDaily.com.

Schools close in advance of predicted blizzard

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By Cowboy State Daily

Schools in eastern Wyoming closed Wednesday in anticipation of a winter storm expected to bring blizzard conditions to portions of the state.

Schools in Goshen and Campbell counties were closed and Laramie County schools were set to release students early in the face of the storm expected to drop from 4 to 8 inches of snow on Cheyenne and up to 15 inches of snow on Lusk.

Heavy, wet snow began falling in eastern Wyoming on Wednesday morning, but Jeff Garmon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, said as temperatures dropped through the day, the snow would become less wet and more prone to being pushed by winds expected to gust to 55 mph in some areas.

“It’s going to be a little deceptive,” he said. “We expect conditions this afternoon to start going downhill.”

A blizzard warning was in effect for southeastern Wyoming from Laramie and Cheyenne north to Torrington and Wheatland, while most of the rest of eastern Wyoming was under a winter storm warning.

Highways remained open throughout the state Wednesday morning, but roads around Cheyenne and Torrington were reported to be slick in spots.

The predicted high winds prompted the Weather Service to issue the blizzard warning for southeastern Wyoming and the Nebraska Panhandle, Garmon said.

He added that while snowfall had tapered off Wednesday morning, the fluffier, lighter snow was expected to move north into the region by the afternoon, creating blizzard conditions.

“I’d say by 3 p.m., things will look a lot different,” he said. “You can’t judge it by what’s outside the window right now.”

Another blizzard poised to hammer southeast Wyoming

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By Cowboy State Daily

Residents of southeastern Wyoming braced for yet another blast of snowy and windy weather as a blizzard warning went into effect in advance of a strong storm expected to bring up to 12 inches of new snow to the region by Thursday.

The National Weather Service issued the blizzard warning for Goshen, Laramie and part of Albany counties on Tuesday, warning residents that freezing rain would precede the snow and wind on Wednesday, making travel difficult.

Much of the rest of the state was under a winter storm warning.

The storm hit less than a month after a blizzard that paralyzed southeastern Wyoming in mid-March and less than 24 hours after mild weather that saw temperatures reach the 70s on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately, when we have these big warm-ups this time of year, that’s an indication there’s something bad coming,” said Don Day, a meteorologist and owner of Day Weather.

Day said this week’s storm may not be as strong as the one seen in March, but it will still have an impact.

“It’s going to be very difficult to top that storm (in mid-March),” he said. “This one on its own, though, will be pretty strong.”

Forecasts called for snowfall to range from 6 to 12 inches in Cheyenne to 4 to 10 inches in Douglas and 7 to 15 inches in Lusk.

Day said the winds accompanying the storm, expected to gust to 55 mph, would cause most of the problems.

“We have seen storms that have dropped more snow in the past, but we’re going to have just enough snow with a lot of wind again,” he said. “And the wind is going to cause probably the biggest problems with the blowing and drifting of the snow.”

The weather will create dangerous conditions for livestock, Day said, especially for ranches that were hit by the last blizzard.

“A lot of folks who took it hard are going to get hit hard again,” he said.

Conditions are expected to improve by Saturday, when high temperatures will reach the high 40s and low 50s.

Ride along in a WYDOT snowplow as drivers work to reopen Wyoming roads

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WYDOT snowplow ride along after a blizzard
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There is a lot of manpower – and horsepower – required to get things back up and running after a massive storm.

Our videographer, Mike McCrimmon, rode along with Wyoming Department of Transportation snowplow driver Duard Dillday III today as state transportation workers hustled to clear and reopen Wyoming roads after the #BombCyclone blizzard blanketed the region with heavy snow and severe winds. #wywx

See our extensive coverage of the storm here, here, and here. And be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter for the latest local updates delivered to your device daily.

Storm brings second day of shutdown for Cheyenne

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Cheyenne residents dig out from bomb cyclone blizzard
Brittney and Bryson Purvis dig out from the blizzard that hit southeastern Wyoming March 13. (Credit: Mike McCrimmon)
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By Cowboy State Daily (Last updated March 14 at 5:50PM)

Traffic began to move again in southeastern Wyoming on Thursday as a major winter storm that swept through the area Wednesday moved out of the region.

After dumping 14 inches of snow in Cheyenne and forcing the closure of schools, government offices and businesses for one to two days, the winds measured at up to 65 mph abated, leaving residents to dig out.

“There is significant digging out to be done with snow drifts much taller than I am,” said Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr. “The best advice I can offer is to stay off the roads and let the city crews continue to clear some pathways.”

Schools, city and county offices and state offices remained closed Thursday as windy conditions continued in the morning, causing snow to drift and reducing visibility.

Also closed for most of Wednesday and Thursday morning were all highways leading in and out of Cheyenne. But by Thursday afternoon, Interstate 25 was open north of Cheyenne. Interstate 80 remained closed east and west of Cheyenne and the state Department of Transportation had no estimate as to when it might open.

The blizzard warning issued by the National Weather Service for eastern and southern Wyoming was due to expire by 6 p.m. and conditions were expected to improve into the weekend, with high temperatures expected to reach the 40s.

The storm was one of the strongest seen in more than a decade, coupling heavy snow with winds gusting to 65 mph.

The storm extended from Denver to the Dakotas, making it the largest seen in almost 40 years.

“I’ve been told that we have not seen a storm of this nature since the Thanksgiving blizzard of 1979 and the 2003 storm,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a news release. “Reportedly, it has the same intensity as a Category 1 hurricane.”

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.

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.”

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