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Gazette Premium Content Wyoming digs out from spring snowstorm

Associated Press Updated: May 12, 2014 at 10:15 pm

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Stranded travelers resumed their trips Monday after hundreds of miles of Interstate 80 were reopened in the wake of a snowstorm that boosted Wyoming's mountain snowpack by more than 3 feet in some places.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Bruce Burrows said the sheer amount of heavy, wet snow that fell Sunday and strong winds taxed the agency's snowplows and road crews.

"I wouldn't say it necessarily caught us off guard," Burrows said. "The strength of the event and a relatively unusual amount of precipitation or moisture this late in the year just made it really impossible for us to keep up with it."

Some 350 miles of Interstate 80 were closed parts of Sunday and Monday morning. The interstate is a major east-west trucking corridor, averaging more than 6,000 trucks per day.

Burrows said the interstate in southwest Wyoming had to be shut down because there was no place for truckers to seek refuge in Cheyenne, Laramie or Rawlins in southeast Wyoming. The situation is similar to traffic lights stopping on-ramp traffic on busy stretches of roads in big cities.

Truck stops in Cheyenne reported full parking lots, and some trucks were forced to park on roads outside the stops.

But as weather conditions improved, the entire route was open by 2 p.m. Monday and quickly became crowded with trucks and other vehicles that had packed truck stops in Cheyenne, Laramie and Rawlins.

The wintry weather may have contributed to one traffic death. An 83-year-old Lander man died Sunday when he lost control of his vehicle on an icy bridge on Wyoming 789 south of Lander and it rolled, according to the State Highway Patrol.

Public schools and the Laramie County Community College also were shuttered Monday in Cheyenne, where 11.8 inches of snow fell on Sunday. It is the fifth-greatest May snowfall in the city, dating to 1889.

The National Weather Service reported estimated snowfall of up to 43 inches in the Snowy Range and Sierra Madre mountains in south-central Wyoming.

The storm increased the statewide snowpack to 152 percent of median, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Casper. The statewide snowpack the previous week was 132 percent of median.

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