Snow zeros in on southeast Wyoming

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - A snow storm that blanketed much of Wyoming, shutting down highways and stranding travelers through the weekend, plowed through Colorado and into western Nebraska early Sunday and set a record for early snowfall in Cheyenne.

The capital city had recorded 10.5 inches of snow by Sunday morning, but warming temperatures through the afternoon were quickly melting the accumulation.

By evening, only a couple of inches of snow remained on the ground in Cheyenne, and green grass poked through the snow in yards across Denver.

The brunt of the storm had pulled down tree branches and caused power outages in Colorado on Saturday night, less than a week after Denver set a temperature record with its 61st day at 90 degrees or above.

In Cheyenne, the last comparable early snowfall hit Sept. 28, 1985, when a storm left 4.9 inches of snow across the city, according to the National Weather Service.

More than 1,200 travelers who had been stranded overnight in Rawlins and Rock Springs - some for two days - began moving out on Sunday as Interstate 80 was reopened across Wyoming one section at a time. Stranded trucks parked along both sides of the highway, and the mass exodus caused traffic bottlenecks outside each city, the Wyoming Highway Patrol said.

''We had 15 miles in Rawlins that was nothing but a parking lot for trucks,'' said Don Brinkman, chairman of the Red Cross branch in Carbon County.

More than 500 travelers spent Saturday night at a Red Cross shelter set up at the Rawlins Family Recreation Center, and about 400 others stayed at the Wyoming National Guard armory in town.

''Most of these are from California trying to go to Illinois, New York, down to Colorado Springs, just all over the place,'' Brinkman said.

Other traveler ended up in churches and a former train depot after the hotels filled up. Four hundred holed up in Rock Springs at an events complex and a recreation center.

''This town, the whole area, is just bumper to pumper trucks, cars moving vans you name it,'' said Judy Valentine, Sweetwater County emergency management coordinator, who was in Rock Springs.

Saturday evening, a 12-car pileup on Interstate 80 just east of Laramie delayed a University of Nevada bus and postponed for an hour a football game at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. There were no major injuries.

Tom and Linda Vaught, of Wichita, Kan., had planned to spend a week camping in Yellowstone National Park. Instead they felt lucky just having a hotel room in Laramie.

''We've never been stuck like this, ever,'' Tom Vaught said. ''We'll always remember Laramie.''

Vaught said he went to the local Wal-Mart looking for gloves and found none. ''I asked the lady where all the gloves were and she said the Nevada football team came in and cleaned us out,'' he said.

On Sunday, the storm dumped up to 15 inches of snow in Colorado's northern mountains and about 6 inches along the lower elevations of the Front Range. Power outages were reported across Larimer County, about 62 miles north of Denver, as the snow collected on leafy trees and snapped branches, said Carl Burroughs of the National Weather Service.

Farther east, the storm covered the western half of Nebraska. Nearly 9 inches fell at Harrisburg, near the Wyoming state line, and about 6 inches fell at Scottsbluff.

Freezing temperatures were expected there into early Monday, with sunshine and warmer readings forecast by afternoon.


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