A major snowstorm pummeled Wyoming on Wednesday, causing closures across the state and prompting the governor to warn residents to stay indoors.
Between 7 and 13 inches of snow fell in Natrona County, according to preliminary totals posted at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday by the National Weather Service office in Riverton. An estimated 16 inches of snow fell on Casper Mountain.
A National Weather Service forecast reported the possibility of an additional 1-3 inches of snow on Wednesday night.
Preliminary snow totals weren’t available by press time for southeastern Wyoming, which appeared to be hit hardest by the storm. Blizzard conditions were expected to continue there through Thursday afternoon.
Along with the snow came high winds, which can resulting in blowing snow and drifts. Gusts as fast as 56 mph were recorded in Natrona County, according to the National Weather Service. Carbon County recorded one gust that reached 76 mph.
As of late Wednesday morning, the snowstorm had gone about as expected, NWS meteorologist Chris Jones said.
“We’re on track,” he said. “We think the heaviest snow will probably fall through Wednesday afternoon and then gradually start to slow a little bit during the evening but probably more during the overnight hours, after midnight. And we’ll see gradually improving conditions throughout the day tomorrow and by Friday, it’ll look like we just had a big, wet snowstorm.
“We’ll definitely see some melting. We’ll see a lot more sun on Friday and temperatures will be back up probably in the mid-30s or so.”
Similar conditions were reported around the state. Nearly the entire eastern portion of Wyomiong was under a blizzard warning on Wednesday. Between 10 and 20 inches of snow was forecast to fall on the southeastern portion of the state, according the National Weather Service office in Cheyenne.
Gov. Mark Gordon advised residents to stay home.
“This storm has the potential to be particularly dangerous. My advice is to stay put and shelter in place,” he said in a statement.
Gordon was monitoring the storm with the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Wyoming Office of Homeland Security and the Wyoming Highway Patrol, according to his office.
“We have closed roads and offices to protect the people of Wyoming and those travelling through the state,” he said. “We have been proactively closing roads ahead of the storm. Additionally, offices throughout the state especially those in the eastern and southern parts of the state are being closed as necessary.”
All highways in and out of Casper — and across much of eastern Wyoming — were closed Wednesday due to the storm. Interstate 25 was shut down from Buffalo to Cheyenne, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation, and U.S. Highway 26 was closed west of the airport to Moneta. U.S. Highway 220 wasclosed west of Red Butte. Much of Interstate 80 was also closed.
With traffic snarled, the Wyoming Army Nation Guard opened its Douglas armory as a shelter for stranded motorists in the area. The Red Cross opened its own shelter in Cheyenne.
Lt. Jeremy Tremel said late Wednesday morning that police patrol officers and detectives remained on duty, but he asked people not to make any unnecessary travel. In an earlier press release, the city said police would only be responding to injury, multi-vehicle and hit-and-run crashes.
The city of Casper closed all non-essential services because of the snow.
The Natrona County offices, Natrona County courts and the town of Mills also announced closures Wednesday. State offices in Cheyenne were also closed, according to WYDOT.
The city of Cheyenne, meanwhile, announced its non-essential services would remain closed a second day due to the storm.
Natrona County School District announced early Wednesday its first snow day in years, and Casper College closed as well. Laramie County School District No. 1, Albany County School District No. 1 and Platte County School District No. 1 also shuttered for the day.
The University of Wyoming announced Wednesday afternoon that all classes were canceled as of 1 p.m., and non-essential staff were dismissed at the same time. Some campus building were set to remain open until 5 p.m., while all other university events were canceled at 5 p.m. The university expected to operate on a normal schedule Thursday.
A power outage affecting more than 700 Rocky Mountain Power customers was reported in the Glenrock area on Wednesday morning. Another power outage was reported in the Glendo area.
Stunning view of the water vapor imagery over the Rockies & Plains this afternoon showing the intense low pressure system bringing dangerous weather to several states. The "warm" colors in this loop show where dry air (at mid levels of the atmosphere) is wrapping into the low. pic.twitter.com/iUrkWx33eN— NWS (@NWS) March 13, 2019
Traffic light but steady
The Casper Fire-EMS Department said via Twitter that the agency had responded to 16 calls for service between 7 a.m. and noon Wednesday. When the agency responded to a report of a vehicle sliding into a gas meter on K Street, Black Hills Energy was also called to the scene. The fire department said no leak was found.
Fire-EMS spokesman Dane Andersen said by phone late Wednesday afternoon that the agency had responded to no more calls for service than they do on a typical weekday. He cautioned that the number of calls could increase during the 5 p.m. rush hour but said he thought people had largely stayed home on the advice of authorities.
Traffic, consisting mostly of pickups and SUVs, was light but steady on largely cleared main streets around noon on Wednesday in Casper. Snow depths on side streets varied and traffic was uniformly sparse.
Late in the morning, most people seen on sidewalks were clearing snow with shovels and snowblowers. Around midday, families walked dogs and played in the snow that had accumulated in central Casper’s residential neighborhoods. Groups converged on a hill in Washington Park with sleds.
Brielle Boulanger celebrated her 8th birthday, which coincided with the school cancellation, with her brother Jonah, 11, and friend Jenee Cantrell, 10. The three children launched sleds off an improvised ramp halfway down a large hill on the west side of the park.
The airport remained open, but its 8:50 a.m., 11:25 a.m. and 3:20 a.m. flights to Denver were canceled. The 6 a.m. flight to Denver departed, but was diverted back to Casper. The 6:02 a.m. flight to Salt Lake City was delayed but departed.
In Cheyenne, police responded to more than 20 stranded vehicles and seven crashes. Two patrol cars were hit while officers responded to abandoned vehicles, police there said in a statement. Road conditions remained hazardous on Wednesday evening.