Blizzard Ulmer toll still untallied in Wyoming: NWS reports dam break and flooding
It’s been over a week since the historic “bomb cyclone” blizzard hit areas of Wyoming, and while the immediate damage was evident with road closures and massive snow drifts, the impact will likely carry well into spring and even summer.
Ulmer, the much anticipated and named March 2019 storm is going down in history as the worst blizzard in the state, since 1979. The blizzard dropped anywhere from 10 to 14 inches, with wind creating massive drifts, towering over 6 feet in some areas. According to the National Weather Service, Ulmer was a massive low-pressure system that became a “bomb cyclone” on March 13. That means the storm reached bombogenesis: when a storm’s minimum surface pressure drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours or less.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation closed Interstate 80 for two nights in a row, between Cheyenne and Rock Springs. On Wednesday, more than 500 miles of Interstate 80 was closed from Rock Springs, Wyo., to Kearney, Neb., the two state’s transportation departments reported. I-25 was also closed for more than 300 miles from Buffalo, Wyo., to the Colorado border
The storm shut Cheyenne down Wednesday evening through Thursday, with offices, schools, shops and restaurants closing up. All major highways through the city, and many local roads, were impassable according to reports. The Cheyenne Police Department even warned drivers to stay home, threatening to ticket those out and about.
While Laramie County didn’t have the same issues some neighboring counties across the borders saw, there were records broken. According to NWS, Cheyenne’s snowfall between Wednesday and Thursday totaled 14.6 inches, and wind speeds reached 63 miles per hour, breaking the daily maximum snowfall record from March. The previous record was 9.3 inches in 1973.
The storm is being blamed for at least three deaths. Tragedy struck in Casper where a 67-year-old woman died after being buried by snow while clearing snow off a roof, according to the Natrona County Sheriff’s Office.
Livestock losses are still being tallied. Producers in the midst of calving will have carryover from the storm for months. Along with the animal losses, post-storm pneumonia and other health problems are also settling in cattle and other production herds.
While the flooding in Nebraska has been at the top of the news channels, Wyoming is also dealing with flooding in areas, following a quick warm up in temperatures.
The storm, following a long, cold winter, is causing problems in the wildlife populations. In northern Wyoming, reports of antelope and mule deer being hit by cars and dying off from malnutrition, are on the rise.
While some parts of Wyoming, leading up to Ulmer, had a relatively mild winter, others, like Newcastle, had the second-coldest February in over a century. And Jackson saw the second-snowiest month on record, with 55.1 inches of snow.
“We’re definitely losing animals,” Newcastle wildlife biologist Joe Sandrini, shared with the Casper Star Tribune. “How bad it is yet, it’s hard to say.”
On March 20, the NWS reported a dam break in eastern Wyoming. According to the warning, a reservoir near Fiddle Back Ranch failed at roughly 4 p.m. Road washouts were reported, and the warning for parts of Converse County and northwestern Niobrara County.
Flood waters were moving into the Cheyenne River Basin. The dam break is expected to cause flooding of small creeks and streams, country roads, farmland and other low-lying areas.
The following streams and drainages are included in the warning:
West Fork Rattlesnake Draw, Rat Creek, Cheyenne River, Rattlesnake Draw, Meadow Creek, Dogie Creek, East Fork Rattlesnake Draw, Wagonhound Creek, Calf Draw, Wildcat Creek, Snyder Creek, Sheldon Draw, Owl Creek, Coal Bank Draw, Hooligan Draw, Dry Fork Cheyenne River, East Fork Lake Creek, Tena Creek, Coyote Creek, North Pasture Draw, Spring Creek, Bull Creek, Keyton Creek, Bad Creek, M Creek, Boggy Creek, Woody Creek, Cottonwood Draw, Horse Creek, Antelope Creek. ❖
— Eatherton is a freelance writer from Sundance, Wyo. When she’s not writing, she’s ranching, riding horses or spending time with her grandkids. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.