Wyoming is still digging out from the massive storm that dropped up to 30 inches of wet, dense snow across its southern half this week.
Snow began falling Saturday, bringing moth-sized snowflakes, driving winds and heavy accumulations to the central and southwestern parts of the state over a several-day period.
Cheyenne got the brunt of the storm as it was buried beneath more than 30 inches. So much snow fell in the capital city that life there ground to a halt. Highways into Cheyenne, including the traffic arteries of Interstate 80 and Interstate 25 as well as secondary roads, were closed for several days. School and government buildings also closed, and the Legislature took two days off from the session.
Cheyenne’s streets were nearly impassable and most residents stranded Sunday and Monday as snow piled up and drifted in high winds. Snowmobilers, skiers and snowshoers ventured out, including snowmobilers shuttling essential workers to their jobs. Some who attempted to drive found themselves hopelessly stuck.
The storm broke the March 14 single-day record for snowfall in Cheyenne with 22.7 inches, and a site atop Windy Peak in the Laramie Range reported 52 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service.
Heavy snows also caused University of Wyoming officials to close the campus in Laramie on Monday and students in Natrona County enjoyed two snow days. Officials cancelled meetings and warned residents not to drive. Transportation officials closed highways from the Nebraska border all the way to Rock Springs and from the Colorado line north to Buffalo. Power blinked out from Lander to Worland and Casper.
Gov. Mark Gordon on Tuesday declared an emergency to facilitate a coordinated response to the storm.
“The scale and intensity of this storm have caused severe impacts to our transportation infrastructure and agriculture producers,” Gordon said in a release. “As the scope of the situation unfolds and with the possibility of flooding as temperatures warm, it’s imperative we make all our resources available to respond to the needs in our communities.”
The effort to clear highways has been heroic. Wyoming Department of Transportation crews have worked nonstop to clear massive drifts of heavy snow from interstates and highways. WYDOT spokesman Doug McGee told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle the storm is “unprecedented” in many ways, with some drifts up to 7 feet deep.
On Sunday, heavy snow sucked a WYDOT plow driver off the road on Highway 135 in the central part of the state. The truck and driver were stranded more than 6 hours before another plow truck was able to rescue them, according to WYDOT.
“The roadway was a mess, and it was nearly impossible to see the roadway in the 40-mph-plus winds,” a WYDOT tweet said. “Drifts were encountered up to 10 feet deep.”
Interstate 80 did not reopen until Wednesday morning.
Nick Reynolds contributed to this report.