Last week it snowed on Casper Mountain. On Monday (Oct. 5), snow was falling as near as 40 miles west of Casper, prompting a “No Unnecessary Travel” restriction to be issued on Highway 20/26 at Waltman early in the morning. This week, snow is predicted toward the weekend. These October snowstorms are a good reminder that winter is on its way to Wyoming and we all need to put our stocking hats on and prepare for an unpredictable and potentially severe season.
Winter here tends to be very different from winters in the eastern half of the U.S. For those who are new to the state, Wyoming winter, extreme in its wind, cold and snow, can present a formidable challenge. The state’s climate is semi-arid, creating dry snow which behaves much differently than the wet stuff.
“While people in the Midwest or eastern U.S. often see snow that might better be thought of as slush, ours tends to be very, very dry,” said Wyoming State Climatologist Dr. Stephen Gray. “To the east of us it is not uncommon to have snow where every 7-10 inches of the frozen stuff equals 1 inch of water when it is melted. In Wyoming, it often takes 20 inches of snow to yield 1 inch of liquid water and ratios of 30:1 are not unusual.”
Translated: Wyoming snow blows … and drifts. Casper averages around 77 inches per year of snow. The central part of the state averages from 40-60 inches of snow per year, but Gray said it’s not always the snowfall that’s the problem. Temperature, elevation and wind contribute to often brutal white-out conditions that can happen in any portion of the state.
“At times you might see upwards of 200 inches of snow in the mountains to the south … while Lusk averages about 50 inches,” Gray said. “Average January lows are usually in the 15 degree range but temperatures as low as -15 to -20 are not uncommon.”
Snow, wind and sub-zero temperatures can hit you anywhere in Wyoming, from downtown Casper to the Shirley Mountains.
“Back in February 1902, Casper reported a low of -41 degrees,” Gray said. “It can be up to 20 degrees colder at Shirley Rim.”
With the triple threat of snow, wind and cold, it’s a good thing to prepare yourself and your vehicle for winter. WYDOT offers the following tips to help ensure your winter travels are safe.
WYDOT Winter Driving Tips
1. Check the Wyoming Road Report by dialing 5-1-1 on your land or cell phone (within Wyoming); by calling 888-WYO-ROAD (if outside Wyoming), or on the Web at www.wyoroad.info. Be sure to view the Web cameras and the atmospheric sensors for the most up-to-date pictures and information. In certain areas, (Casper, Douglas, Wheatland) you can also turn to 1610 AM for travel information.
Be aware that the Road Report provides general information and not specific, up-to-the-minute conditions for every mile of highway. Your judgment and responsibility as the vehicle operator is the most important element to ensure your winter highway travels are safe.
2. Buckle up and slow down! Drive for the conditions and remember, just because a road looks recently plowed, doesn’t mean it’s not still slick. Give yourself extra room to stop and make turns when approaching intersections. Take extra time to get where you’re going.
3. Always keep your gas tank at least half full; more weight equals better traction. If you get stuck, do not leave your car. Run the engine periodically to keep warm and open a window slightly to ensure you have fresh air to breathe. Check the area around the vehicle’s tailpipe to ensure it is clear of snow build-up which could block the pipe and introduce deadly exhaust fumes into the vehicle.
4. Remember that 4-wheel-drive on slick roads does not mean 4-wheel stop. A four-wheel drive vehicle will not stop any better on sheer ice than a 2-wheel-drive vehicle. When stopping and steering, small movements help you maintain control - slamming on the brakes and making big steering inputs is practically a guarantee that you slide off the highway.
5. Never pass a snowplow unless you are absolutely certain of what is next to or ahead of the snowplow. In poor visibility or even white-out conditions, don't drive faster than you can see ahead. Plows turn and exit the road frequently. Give them plenty of room. Stay back at least 15 car lengths (200 feet). Snowplows can throw up a cloud of snow that can reduce your visibility to zero in less time than you can react. Never drive into a snow cloud as it could conceal a snowplow.
6. Be sure your cell phone is fully charged. Carry extra clothing, blankets, a flashlight, a shovel, water and food, matches, water, a candle, jumper cables and a tow strap.
7. Don’t travel if your vehicle isn’t in good mechanical condition. Tires, brakes, battery, turn signals and all other lights should be fully functional. The last place you want to have a breakdown is on a snowy highway.
8. Again, give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination. It’s not worth the risk of going off the road or being in a crash just to save a couple of minutes. In fact, for a 60 mile trip, the difference between going 65 mph and 55 mph is only 10 minutes.
Finally, always be aware of the conditions. Wyoming winters can be severe and a little preparation now can be a lifesaver later.
For more WYDOT winter driving tips and information, visit http://www.dot.state.wy.us/wydot/travel/winter and click on “Winter Wheelin’ in Wyoming” brochure.
For more information or to obtain a copy of this press release, contact
Jeff Goetz, District 2 public involvement specialist, at (307) 473-3303.