Schools, businesses and government offices across southern and eastern Wyoming closed on Wednesday in the face of a strong winter storm expected to bring up to 20 inches of snow and high winds to the region.
A blizzard warning was in effect from Cheyenne east to Saratoga and north to the Montana border until Thursday evening, with the National Weather Service predicting snowfall of up to 10 to 22 inches of snow at lower elevations and up to 3 feet of snow above 8,500 feet.
Coupled with forecasts for winds of hip to 65 mph, the weather service said the storm would create blizzard conditions throughout the region. Wind gusts were already topping 50 mph on in Cheyenne on Wednesday morning.
The storm forced the closure of Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Rock Springs by Wednesday morning, along with Interstate 25 between Cheyenne and Buffalo. Interstate 80 from Rock Springs to the Utah border were open, but reported slick with snowfall and limited visibility. Accidents dotted the interstate between Cheyenne and Rawlins.
Most state and U.S. highways in southeastern Wyoming were also closed.
Gov. Mark Gordon, in a news release announcing the closure of state offices in Cheyenne, urged people in southeastern Wyoming to stay out of the weather.
“This storm has the potential to be particularly dangerous,” he said. “My advice is to stay put and shelter in place. Stay home, stay off the roads and stay safe and warm.”
Closures of Cheyenne schools and non-essential government offices were announced Tuesday as officials watched the approach of the storm.
“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.”
Also closed in Cheyenne were state offices and the Cheyenne Regional Airport.
Other closures included schools and government offices in Laramie, Casper, Newcastle, Wheatland, Chugwater, Glendo and Torrington.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation will move additional snow-removal equipment to interstates 80, 25 and 90 and other primary roads to help combat a major spring snowstorm that will move into the state starting Tuesday evening.
The storm is expected to bring blizzard conditions along the eastern parts of the state.
WYDOT officials plan to shift the department’s equipment to the interstates and other high priority roads, generally from the northwest to the southeast. If necessary, WYDOT will hire private resources to help with snow-removal efforts.
“Although we are shifting equipment to certain locations, at no time will any part of the state be without snow-removal equipment,” said Mark Gillett, assistant chief engineer – Operations. “WYDOT crews will work the interstates and primary routes to keep the roads safe for motorists. We will also continuously adjust our resources as needed during the storm to ensure the best use of our equipment and manpower.”
The storm is expected to move into Wyoming late Tuesday night and bring initially with it some rain, sleet and snow in southeast Wyoming and light to moderate snow in south-central Wyoming. On Wednesday morning, conditions will change to all snow with wind in the southeast. The system is expected to produce snowfall amounts of 1 to 3 inches per hour in some locations, information from DayWeather indicated.
“This could be a once-in-a-decade-or-two storm if it materializes the way we think it will,” said Mark Heuer, meteorologist with DayWeather. “This storm is expected to be similar to the Thanksgiving blizzard of 1979 and the storm of March 23, 2003. This storm has the potential to strengthen into a record-strong storm.”
On I-80 and I-25 in southeast Wyoming near Cheyenne, the storm is expected to produce 6 to 9 inches of snow with 9 to 12 inches possible Wednesday. Blizzard and whiteout conditions are possible along this section of I-80 and I-25. Winds will be 45 to 60 mph.
The central portion of I-80 is expected to get 6 to 10 inches with 10 to 14 inches possible. The mountain passes could get as much as 18-plus inches of snow, DayWeather reported. Winds will be 25 to 45 mph.
The western side of I-80 is expected to get 1 to 3 inches with 3 to 5 inches possible. Winds will be 15 to 35 mph.
In central Wyoming on I-25 near Casper, the storm is expected to produce 4 to 8 inches with 8 to 12 inches a possibility. Winds could be anywhere from 25 to 40 mph.
Along I-90 near Gillette, snowfall amounts could be in the 3- to 6-inch range with 6 to 9 inches possible. Sheridan could get about 1 to 3 inches.
The system is also expected to bring similar conditions and snowfall amounts to the surrounding two-lane highways.
Then on Thursday, northeastern Wyoming could get an additional 2 to 5 inches with 5 to 9 possible, east-central could get 2 to 4 inches with 5 to 8 inches possible and southeast could get 1 to 3 with 3 to 5 inches possible, DayWeather indicated. Widespread blowing and drifting snow and 3 to 5 foot drifts will be likely Wednesday night through late Thursday across the eastern half of the state.
WYDOT also has started alerting travelers of the upcoming storm. Officials are posting messages on the dynamic message signs about the storm such as, “Expect hazardous travel, adjust travel plans.”
Travelers should take extra precaution during the storm. They should:
- Visit WYDOT’s 511 website at http://wyoroad.info for the latest road and travel conditions so they can plan their trip accordingly.
- Make sure their cellphones are fully charged before traveling and their vehicles have a full tank of gas.
- Make sure they have an emergency kit in their vehicles that includes blankets, water and non-perishable food.
- Allow for extra time to get to their destinations when traveling.
- Not travel if they can delay their plans.
Besides getting the latest information on WYDOT’s 511 website, travelers can also download the 511 app to get real-time information from their smartphones and sign up for 511 Notify to get the latest road information by text or email.