Mother Nature put an exclamation point on a storm that started Monday night, making it clear that winter has arrived with about a foot of heavy, wet snow and even larger drifts created by 40-plus mph winds overnight.
All highways leading in and out of Gillette are closed this morning, with no estimate given for their reopening, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation website.
Within Gillette, the situation is much the same.
The city of Gillette declared a Level 2 snow emergency, which advises against non-emergency travel throughout the city. Those who do try the streets may find impassable roadways and get in the way of snow removal services.
City and county offices were closed, as were schools.
People awoke Wednesday to a world of white, learning that any efforts they had made to shovel snow Tuesday night were all for naught.
David King, Campbell County Emergency Management Coordinator, said he spent two hours last night snow blowing, and when he woke up this morning, it was as if he hadn’t done anything at all.
From Monday night through Wednesday morning, Campbell County has been buried by nearly a foot of “angel dandruff,” King said.
He measured snowfall in five locations in Gillette Wednesday morning and came out to an average of 10 inches of snow.
Dave Hintz, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service office in Rapid City, South Dakota, said he’s gotten reports of 10-14 inches of snow in Gillette, with some snowdrifts as high as two and a half feet. Wind gusts between 35 and 40 mph have been reported.
“They nailed it, it was exactly what they forecast,” King said of the National Weather Service’s prediction.
The drier snow also had an extra benefit: With the wind’s help, it didn’t accumulate on tree branches, which were already weighted down with snow that fell Monday night and Tuesday. More heavy snow would have added to the few broken branches noted around Gillette.
On Tuesday alone, 6 inches of snow and 0.51 inches of precipitation were reported in Gillette, according to the National Weather Service. Both of those figures come short of the Oct. 12 record set in 2008, which saw 8 inches of snow and 0.6 inches of precipitation on that date.
“Yesterday it was heavy and wet and wasn’t moving around,” King said. “Things froze up over night, and we got this finer, drier snow that tends to move around more, and we got the winds to go along with it.”
King said he’s heard reports of snowfall as high as 18 inches in the northern part of the county. And Hintz said western South Dakota has gotten between 13 and 17 inches.
While many in Gillette were sleeping through the blizzard outside, Cesar Chavira was awake. At 3: 30 a.m., he got up for work. The snowdrift piled outside of his home was high, but not too high for his pickup truck to traverse. He made it down his driveway, but not much further than that.
Headed towards Highway 59, he saw the four-lane road reduced to one lane in each direction from the heavy snow cover.
“I got out (the driveway),” he said. “Once I got to Highway 59, the emergency gates were closed.”
In normal conditions, he said his drive to the EOG Resources oil field he works near Wright can take about 90 minutes. The Wyoming Department of Transportation website confirmed for him what the gate already indicated: All roads to work were closed.
So instead of work, he’s left to shovel.
Hintz said the storm system will leave Campbell County later Wednesday, dropping 1-2 more inches of snow before making an exit. And the rest of the week should bring warmer temperatures and sunshine, he added.
“You’ve just got to get through the next 24 hours,” Hintz said.
It’s not unusual for Gillette to get a snowstorm this time of year, King said, but “to get one that shuts everything down, that’s a little unusual for October.”
Over the years there have been many instances where Campbell County dodged a serious snowstorm that slammed other parts of Wyoming.
“With this one, we ended up in the bullseye,” King said.
Highway 59 is closed heading north to Montana and south all the way through Douglas. Interstate 90 is closed headed west to Buffalo and east to Moorcroft. Highways east of Moorcroft are deemed to have high weather impact and are closed to unnecessary travel, according to WYDOT.
Highway 14-16 to Buffalo and Sheridan is closed, as well as Highway 50 headed south to Wright.
In Wright, Highway 450 east of town is closed up to Newcastle and Highway 387 is closed west to Pine Tree Junction.
All city facilities are closed under the level two snow emergency. It is up to employers and employees to find out if their businesses are open.
The city also halted its solid waste services for Wednesday. Instead, the city will collect the trash for both Wednesday and Thursday on Thursday.
Campbell County facilities and operations are closed Wednesday as well, due to the weather and road conditions, according to the county Facebook page.
As disruptive as the snowstorm was, King said all this snow comes at least one silver lining. The Campbell County Fire Department is looking at lifting the burn restrictions next week.