CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — An early snowstorm brought parts of Wyoming to a wintry standstill Friday, closing hundreds of miles of highways, leaving thousands of people in the dark and forcing colleges and other schools to call off classes.
"I've lived in Wyoming my whole life, and I've never seen it like this this early," Patricia Whitman, shift manager at the Flying J truck stop in Gillette, said in a telephone interview Friday morning. "Usually the first snow is, like, Halloween."
Heavy snow and winds gusts approaching 50 mph created blizzard conditions in the eastern-central part the state, including Torrington, Lusk, Wheatland and Douglas.
Reports of 5 to 10 inches of snow and 3-foot drifts were common, with higher amounts in the mountains. Conditions improved from west to east as the storm moved out of the state. Most weather warnings expired Friday night.
Hundreds of miles highways, including long stretches of interstates 25 and 90, were closed. A 120-mile stretch of I-25 between Casper and Sheridan was shut down, as well as about 180 miles of I-90 from Sheridan to the South Dakota state line.
Whitman said her truck stop's parking was full with travelers waiting out the storm.
"I know several of the businesses nearby are completely closed because they can't even get workers into work — it's pretty nasty," she said.
The heavy wet snow snapped tree limbs, which fell and knocked out power lines. Outages occurred in a number of areas, especially Casper, where 10 to 13 inches of snow fell.
Rocky Mountain Power, which serves parts of eastern and central Wyoming where the storm hit hardest, reported 13,700 customers statewide without power Friday morning, most in the Casper area. About half had their power restored by midafternoon.
Company spokeswoman Margaret Oler said it could take several days to restore power in some areas because of the number of downed trees and power lines.
Powder River Energy Corp., which has many rural electric customers in northeast Wyoming, estimated about 3,000 customers without power Friday afternoon.
Repair crews had to be recalled in some areas because of impassable roads and poor weather conditions, according to Powder River spokeswoman Kristin Kelly.
"They've also got really deep snow," Kelly said. "To get into these power lines in some of these areas, in the past we've had to bring in snowmobiles, so they might be working on bringing some snow equipment in. But right now to get the bucket trucks in it's very difficult."
Community college campuses in Casper, Sheridan, Gillette and Torrington were shut down for the day. Many Friday night high school football games were postponed.
Snowfall totals reported Friday afternoon by the National Weather Service included 14 inches at Dubois, about a foot at Lander and Wamsutter, up to 8 inches in Riverton and Lusk, 7 inches in Thermopolis, 6 inches at Cody and Laramie, and around 2 feet in some mountain areas, including Casper Mountain.