GOSHEN COUNTY – A strong thunderstorm moved through portions of northern Goshen County last weekend, overwhelming Rawhide Creek and sending flood waters cascading through the tiny town of Jay Em.
The National Weather Service in Cheyenne had been tracking the storm through the early-evening hours on Friday, finally upgrading to flash flood warnings later as radar indicated the storm was dumping heavy rains in a small area north of Jay Em in the watershed that feeds Rawhide Creek, said Meteorologist Chad Hahn. The particular cell was part of a much larger storm that settled over the area Friday and in to Saturday with steady rainfall, he said.
“We ran into problems in Jay Em on Friday Night,” Hahn said. “There was a really decent storm in that area that produced three- to five-inches of rain in a very small area of northern Goshen County that feeds Rawhide Creek.
“This was all from one, pretty heavy thunderstorm cell that developed late Friday,” he said. “We saw the heavy rain was occurring in that area off radar estimations. We could see we were getting up into the three- to four-inch range.”
Goshen County Emergency Management Coordinator Shelly Kirchhefer was in the area Saturday to survey the damage. Two bridges – one on Harris Ranch Road and a second along County Road 124 – were impacted when debris washed downstream from the storm struck both structures, she said.
“The integrity of the Harris Ranch Road bridge may not be very good,” Kirchhefer said Wednesday. “I haven’t heard from the Road and Bridge Department. I haven’t heard anything on the (CR 124) bridge because there’s so much debris.”
The flood cut a wide swath through town, she said. Ground along both sides of the creek bed showed the path of the flooding on Saturday as far south as mile marker 116 on Highway 85, about eight miles south of the community, leaving in its wake a massive debris field along the sides of the highway.
People entering and leaving Jay Em on County Road 124 are currently parking vehicles on both ends of the possibly damaged bridge and walking from one to the other to avoid driving over the structure, Kirchhefer said. To the best of her knowledge, though, no one was injured and no homes in the town itself were damaged. She also could not confirm reports of livestock deaths due to the flooding.
The likelihood of a repeat of the flooding from last weekend in Jay Em is slight this season, Hahn said. Unlike the massive 2015 flooding in the town of Lusk to the north, where an abnormally-wet May left ground saturated and turned subsequent rains directly into flood runoff, the Jay Em area – in fact most of eastern Wyoming – isn’t that wet.
In fact, the forecast through the weekend is for warm, dry weather, with highs into the 90s for much of the area, Hahn said.
“We haven’t had much above-normal precipitation” this spring so far,” he said. “We’ve had a wet few weeks and we will continue to watch the (weather) trends. But this storm at Jay Em probably hasn’t done enough to point to any future (flooding) concerns.
“The likelihood of another slow-moving storm over the same area again in the next couple of weeks is not a likely scenario,” Hahn said. “We will keep an eye on it for the next couple of weeks or so.”