By Sarah Pridgeon
One of the largest October blizzards on record caused chaos over the weekend, hitting the record books with the sheer volume of heavy snow that was dumped across Crook County and the surrounding region. The event has now been designated a mega storm.
By Friday evening, the National Weather Service out of Rapid City had reported 24 inches of heavy snow in Sundance and 20 inches in Hulett. The highest levels reported were in Beulah, where up to 58 inches buried the landscape, with similar figures in Lead and Deadwood.
Winds reached 60 miles per hour in parts of Crook County, causing numerous power outages as lines whipped together and were damaged by falling trees. Powder River Energy Company labored throughout the day and night to maintain power for as many parts of the county as possible.
More than 3000 customers were believed to be without power at various points during the storm. Lineman crews addressed as many outages as possible throughout the day, though some were recalled when the hazardous conditions in certain areas caused the territory to become impassable.
At time of going to press, approximately 250 customers continue to experience power outages and PRECorp crews had begun rebuilding power lines between Beulah and Sundance. Other crews were working in Hulett, Aladdin, Mush Creek and rural parts of Crook County to restore power, as well as in remote parts of Sand Creek and Moskee, where four feet of snow had blocked the way.
PRECorp estimates that it will take several weeks to restore infrastructure to its previous state even once power has been fully restored. Scattered broken poles and crossarms have been reported across the region and broken trees continue to threaten power lines.
For Sundance, keeping the main road arteries open required the public works team, including Zach Steele, Doug Haar and Doug Adam, to plow constantly throughout the day. Even the police department joined the effort once power had been restored and the garage doors could be opened, with Officer Welchie Patterson manning a plow while on patrol.
The roads needed to remain clear to allow access for emergency services, explains Police Chief Todd Fritz. Although several residents reported potential problems with oxygen tanks running low, no serious issues occurred.
County operators also worked across the county to clear paths for the PRECorp crews. While the state roads were closed, says Road and Bridge Secretary Katie Allen, they worked solely in support of PRECorp; after the storm, attention was turned to re-opening the county roads for Monday morning.
Most state roads were closed early on Friday, including I-90 from Sheridan all the way to the state line, says Ronda Holwell. Teams worked during the storm to plow the snow and were able to open the interstate more quickly at the Sheridan end, where the wind was not so strong.
As the snow was wet and heavy, the plows quickly found themselves unable to push through. Rotary plows were brought down from the Big Horns and many large drifts were cleared on Saturday morning, opening I-90 all the way to Buffalo and then on to Gillette.
The interstate remained closed up to the state line at the request of South Dakota, Holwell explains. Though it had been cleared and was passable, the situation was more severe across the border and there was nowhere for traffic to go.
On Sunday, WYDOT teams assisted South Dakota in clearing the road to Spearfish, allowing I-90 to be reopened by mid-morning. Smaller routes, including parts of Hwys 116 and 85, were reopened by the afternoon, with every road in the northeast corner once again passable.
During the storm, WYDOT reports slide-offs and jack-knifes but no major accidents. Several stranded motorists were retrieved from Hwy 387 late on Friday night, with Casper joining the rescue effort when plows from Wright and Gillette got stuck in the heavy snow.
Over the border in South Dakota, ranchers reported heavy cattle losses during the storm. According to Doctor Warren Crawford of Crook County Veterinary Service, however, there were considerably fewer local casualties.
Though there was little death loss, he explains, there will almost certainly be repercussions in terms of cattle weight loss and stress. Crook County may have fared better because the winds were not quite so high, sustained or damaging and the terrain is a little more protected.
Due to the high number of trees and branches that fell during the storm, the city landfill in Sundance will remain open free of charge every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Much of the wood will be placed in the burn pit, while the Soil Conservation District has offered the assistance of its wood chipper to make use of the rest.
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