Wind and drifts disrupt travel, schools

Posted 2/23/21

Sunday morning arrived in Powell with sunny skies and calm conditions, giving little warning of the storm that was brewing.

The stormy weather that arrived in the afternoon didn’t bring new …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Wind and drifts disrupt travel, schools


Sunday morning arrived in Powell with sunny skies and calm conditions, giving little warning of the storm that was brewing.

The stormy weather that arrived in the afternoon didn’t bring new snow to the area, but the powerful gusts — which topped 80 mph in the Cody area — rearranged the powder that was already on the ground into massive travel-disrupting drifts. Some area residents remained snowed in through Monday morning and school was canceled in Powell and Clark.

“Though main roads, and town streets are mostly just slick, with blowing snow, many of the ancillary roads and rural driveways have extreme drifting, making it impossible for many of our staff and students to make it safely to school,” said Park County School District 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis. That, he said, led district leaders to cancel classes “out of caution for the safety and well being of all of our staff and students.”

Park County’s road and bridge crews headed out Sunday afternoon in an effort to keep roads plowed open, but the windy conditions and flying snow won out in several areas, including Heart Mountain, the Willwood, the South Fork and the Green Creek and Jim Mountain areas around Wapiti. The county’s public works department had specifically told residents to avoid Road 19 between lanes 9 and 10.

Adding to the trouble, multiple drivers — who may have been deceived by Sunday’s pleasant start — got stuck in the drifts. That made it more difficult for crews as they sought to plow around the stranded vehicles.

“In our business ‘wind’ is a dirty four-letter word that we do not even like to say,” Park County Engineer Brian Edwards said in a Sunday Facebook post. “Mother Nature is proving to be a worthy opponent today.”

With snow blowing in faster than crews could plow it away, Edwards said his department sought to get South Fork residents to their homes on Sunday night and then pick up the work again in the morning. A couple county plows got stuck in the difficult conditions as well, he said.

Wyoming Department of Transportation personnel ran into the same problems on Wyo. Highway 294 through Badger Basin and on Wyo. Highway 120 on Chapman Bench, north of Cody.

“It was a nasty day,” said Cody Beers, a regional spokesman for WYDOT.

Cody resident Mack Frost was among the travelers who sought to cross Chapman Bench Sunday night — and he offered “a huge thank you” to the Wyoming Highway Patrol and WYDOT for their assistance.

“Extremely high winds were screaming across the highway, creating a long patch of ice and a ground blizzard of epic proportions,” Frost wrote in a message. Even driving slowly, directly behind a patrol car, “you could not see the car in front of you nor the delineator posts on the side of the road,” he said.

Frost said that troopers “set up a relay to ferry vehicles safely through the worst part of the blizzard. Otherwise, vehicles would have spun out of control and off the road like a demolition derby.”

Frost passed through the area at about 7:20 p.m. Sunday and “I’m really glad they were on hand,” he said, adding, “They all kept everyone safe.”

Beers noted that Sunday featured blue skies and warmer temperatures, but the wind “was just causing all kinds of problems.” Further, with the pavement relatively warm, snow was sticking, melting and then freezing to create icy surfaces; Wyo. 120 south of Cody, heading toward Meeteetse, was reported to be solid ice.

“That area up there can be a dangerous place when there’s snow and wind blowing,” he said.

Beers pointed out that, despite the challenges, road crews worked over the weekend to try helping to keep travelers safe.

By early Monday afternoon, Edwards said he believed county crews were getting caught up and making good progress on the rural routes, with the snow melting quickly in the warmer temperatures.

“We’ve been spoiled all winter,” he added, “so it was coming sooner or later.”