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December 16, 2008 4:16 am

Cold, wind and snow move in on Powell

Written by Tribune Staff

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After a weekend of chilling temperatures and gnarly weather, a sundog appeared around the late afternoon sun, visible from the top of the Big Horn Mountains on U.S. 14 as well as from the Big Horn Basin. Tribune photo by Kara Bacon

And there's more to come

A powerful cold front moved through Wyoming on Saturday, bringing strong winds and snow flurries to Powell and Cody and dropping the temperature by more than 20 degrees in three hours.

Meteorologist Paul Skrbac of the National Weather Service in Riverton said the front began blowing arctic air into the Powell area at about 9 a.m. At that time, the temperature stood at 28 degrees. By noon, the mercury had dropped to 5 degrees, and it continued dropping until it hit the sub-zero range that evening.

But the bigger problem on Saturday was the wind, which produced wind-chill temperatures at or below 30 degrees below zero. When combined with local snow flurries, it produced visibilities near zero on area highways, causing a chain of crashes on U.S. 14-A between Powell and Cody. The highway was closed for a few hours while Wyoming Highway Patrol troopers investigated and cleared the accident scenes.

The peak wind gust of 63 mph occurred at the Powell Municipal Airport at about 11:55 a.m., with sustained winds at about 45 mph.

At about the same time, the peak gust in Powell was recorded at 48 mph, with sustained winds of 30-35 mph.

Temperatures continued to fall as the storm blew past the area. Monday morning's low temperature of 18 degrees below zero in Powell set a new record low for Dec. 15, said meteorologist Chris Jones. The previous record was 17 degrees below zero.

Jones noted, however, that the all-time low temperature for the month of December occurred on Dec. 22, 1990, when the mercury dipped to a frigid 34 degrees below zero. Powell experienced five days with low temperatures of 30 degrees below zero or colder from Dec. 20-25 that year, he said.

The all-time record low temperature for any date in Powell was 36 degrees below zero, which occurred in February 1907, Jones said.

Skrbac said Saturday's storm brought snow only to the western part of Wyoming, while the eastern part of the state experienced more wind and cold.

North of Powell, the wind was so strong that it flipped an unanchored chain-link kennel and blew it across a yard and into a barbed-wire fence near Lane 6 and Road 9.

Ashley Lauritzen said she and her daughter had to struggle to pull the kennel back toward a protected area of the house. As they did, it started to lift off the ground again, she said.

Lauritzen said she called to check on the family's trampoline, which had been left at her grandmother's house. Her grandmother informed her later that the trampoline was rolling down the street on its casters.

It took eight people to retrieve and dismantle the trampoline, Lauritzen said.

On Sunday, rural homes north of Powell lost power in the area around Lane 5 and Roads 11 and 12.

Mary Ann Keeler, of Garland Power and Light Co., said the outage occurred between 5 and 10 p.m. It was due to increased demand on the system brought on by the cold temperatures, she said.

“Everybody's got their Christmas lights on now, too,” she added.

At one point, the company had 100 employees working outside to restore power to homes, Keeler said.

“They haven't found anything that really caused it, other than cold weather,” she said. “Every time they tried to put it back on, there was too much draw all at once. They had to do some isolating and put it back a little at a time.”

Skrbac said locals can expect the cold to remain for some time to come. A new Arctic system is expected to move down on Friday, bringing more cold, wind and snow, he said.

The good news is that the wind in the new system may not be as bad as Saturday's, he said, because there will be less of a temperature difference between the incoming storm and existing conditions.

But the bad news is that the cold could hang around for at least a few more days afterward, and possibly through the end of the month, he said.