Winter storm closes highways, schools, government offices

Roman Winter, a University of Wyoming junior, waits for the shuttle outside of Coe Library and the Wyoming Union on Wednesday morning in Laramie. University of Wyoming classes were canceled at about 1 p.m. Wednesday as a blizzard battering the the region from Denver to the Dakotas gained intensity. The storm that shut down highways, schools and government offices across southern and eastern Wyoming was expected to continue Thursday. (Photo by Joel Funk, Laramie Boomerang)

By The Wyoming News Exchange

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.

And many planned to remain closed through Thursday as the major winter storm expected to leave up to 10 to 22 inches of snow across the region showed no sign of letting up Wednesday night.

A blizzard warning was in effect from Cheyenne east to Rawlins and north to the Montana border until Thursday evening, with the National Weather Service predicting snowfall of 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 up 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 through most of Wednesday.

The storm forced the closure of Interstate 80 between Cheyenne and Rock Springs, 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. The Wyoming Highway Patrol had no estimate as to when the roads might be opened again.

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 University of Wyoming canceled its classes shortly after noon on Wednesday.

Although the university planned to open for classes on Thursday, several of the school districts decided to keep classes closed through Thursday.

As roads in and out of Cheyenne closed, truck drivers began pulling off the road to ride out the storm.

At the Flying J Travel Center south of Cheyenne, staff said the parking lot, which as room for 196 semi trucks, was full and that some trucks were parked along the road.

The snow was expected to taper off by Thursday morning, but the National Weather Service said brisk winds would continue until Friday when temperatures were expected to rise back to the mid-30s.