Carolyn Aanestad walked her dog in what looked like a war zone Friday morning.
A late September snowstorm ripped through Riverton. Branches fell on the streets. Power lines went down.
“The town looked like a bomb hit it,” she said.
Aanestad is a spokeswoman for Central Wyoming College. The school had to push back its morning classes to noon to wait for power to be restored. She received the news at 4 a.m. and had to spread it to students.
“It was a long morning,” she said.
The snow that hit Wyoming on Thursday night and Friday morning came from a weather pattern that touches the state every 10 to 20 years, said Chris Jones, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Riverton.
Snow in September isn’t an anomaly in the Cowboy State, but the high accumulation totals that spanned the central regions are uncommon this time of the year, he said.
Towns in higher altitudes have seen above-average accumulations this time of year in the past few years, but it’s seldom seen in such places as Casper, Riverton and Thermopolis.
The storm was a low-pressure movement that originated in the Gulf of Alaska and made its way to the Mountain West. The movement gained momentum over Utah and caused precipitation from the south to move into central Wyoming. The two fronts collided in the middle of the state, dumping 8 to 12 inches of snow in the Big Horn Mountains, Wind River Range and the Absaroka Mountains. Casper, Riverton, Worland and Thermopolis all got 3 to 6 inches by Friday afternoon.
Saturday will likely bring clear skies and high temperatures in the 50s by the afternoon, Jones said. But he warned the cold weather is unlikely to go away. Jones’ seven-day outlook suggests more snow will be on its way by Thursday night and Friday morning after a few sunny days at the beginning of the week.
This year's late-April snow, moist summer and what looks like a snow-filled fall have all come to the surprise of Wyomingites who were expecting another grim fire season.
The recent storm left its mark on many towns throughout the state. It weighed down power lines and leaf-filled branches, causing power outages to at least 11,500 people throughout the state, said Chris Petrie, secretary and chief counsel for the Wyoming Public Service Commission.
“This is very unusual,” he said.
The early estimates showed 5,000 Casper, Riverton, Worland and Lander residents lost power Friday morning and into the afternoon with an additional 1,500 individual outages in the region. Five-thousand residents near Dubois lost power as well, Petrie said.
The Wind River office of the Shoshone National Forest lost power as well as Lander Regional Hospital.
At 4 p.m. on Friday, patches of homes in Lander and Riverton were still experiencing outages.
Crews from Rock Springs and Casper were called into the area to help expedite the restoration.
It’s a meticulous and time-consuming task to restore power in scattered areas, said Margaret Oler, spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain Power.
Friday’s outage scenario was one of the most difficult types of outages the company faces, she said.
Big power lines can be fixed quickly, but the scattered outages in more rural areas require more meticulous work, Oler said.
“We have to go from one point of damage to the next,” she said.
She blamed the outages on the changing of the seasons.
“Until Mother Nature sends us a nice wind and a cold snap to bring those leaves off the trees, it presents more potential for the snow to cause a problem,” she said.