Record-setting cold has the Powell area in an unwelcome embrace.
And the Arctic airmass will hold on tight for several more days, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Trevor LaVoie in Riverton.
A record was set Wednesday for the “low high” on this date, as thermometers struggled to reach 6. The record had been 21 degrees in 2005, LaVoie said.
“That will obliterate that,” he said of the intense cold on Wednesday.
Today (Thursday) may also be a record day, this time in the other direction. The all-time low for Dec. 5 is 13 below zero in 2011, and the forecast for today is a low of 12 below.
“That as well may be broken,” LaVoie said.
The cold swept into the area accompanied by snow and wind on Monday. It left vehicles in ditches, streets and sidewalks coated in ice and people hurrying from vehicles to buildings and vice versa. The Annual Lighted Christmas Parade planned for Saturday was canceled due to the cold.
Power was lost Monday night in Powell and surrounding areas thanks to nasty weather while snowplows were cranking up in the wee hours Tuesday morning so commuters could drive to work.
Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) lost its power around 10 p.m. Monday evening. “So consequently the whole region would be out,” said Larry Carter, city of Powell electrical superintendent.
Monday night, primary fuses blew on South Bent Street, affecting the south side of Powell. On Alan Road near Arrowhead RV, whipping winds caused power lines to wrap together, causing more primary fuses to blow that impacted the businesses on both sides of Alan Road. Primary fuses along Road 10 (Tower Boulevard) blew, affecting the west side of Powell, Carter said.
Outages in Powell ran roughly 8:20 to 8:27 p.m., 9:57 to 10:03 p.m., 11:26 to 11:28 p.m. and 11:29 to 11:51 p.m., according to Tribune calculations.
In rural areas surrounding Powell, 546 Rocky Mountain Power customers lost their electricity from 7:56 p.m. Monday to 12:50 a.m. Tuesday, said Margaret Oler, spokesperson for Rocky Mountain Power.
“It was all weather-related,” Oler said.
Willwood Light & Power Company lost power Monday night, but employees were able to make repairs and get power up by Tuesday morning, said Randy Wilkerson, public affairs specialist in WAPA’s Denver office.
Snowplows doing ‘best we can’
Like linemen, when the weather is the worst, snowplows ride into the eye of the storm.
Greg Meinecke, the Park County engineer who oversees snow removal, said two county road superintendents hit the roads at 3 a.m. Tuesday to survey conditions. Then, snowplow drivers arrived at 4 a.m. to clear roads for school buses, mail, agriculture and commuters, Meinecke said.
In the rural Powell area, there are three road graders and five dump trucks with plows and sand spreaders running for the county. One front-end loader remains at the Powell shop to load the trucks with sand, Meinecke said.
Whenever possible, when the plows create windrows of snow along the edge of the road, a pickup truck with a plow blade or other equipment follows to remove excess snow so driveways aren’t plowed in, Meinecke said.
For the last 20 years, the county has been elevating its roads so the wind will blow the snow over the roadway to collect in ditches, he said.
The biggest challenge from the latest storm has been wind creating drifts north of Powell and on the Ralston Bench west of Powell, some 4 feet high, Meinecke said.
Vehicles struggle on roads
Mark Schneider, 42, of Clark had just delivered a load of cattle in Riverton Monday evening and was driving on rural roads, hoping they would be more navigable.
“He was attempting to take a route that he felt would be the best to avoid the storm and hazardous road conditions,” said Lance Mathess, Park County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
Schneider made it as far as Lane 11 near Road 16, northwest of Ralston, where he lost control of the semi at about 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. It slid sideways and became stuck across the road, Mathess said. Eagle Recovery moved it after the road was plowed.
Road 11 was cleared at about 8 a.m. — about the same time a two-vehicle collision was reported on U.S. Highway 14-A near Road 10 just west of Powell.
According to Trooper Blain Mollett, Mandy Hammer, 47, of Cody, lost control of her Jeep CJ while driving east. The Jeep struck the driver’s side of the bed of a Ford Ranger pickup driven by Erasmo Ventura, 37, of Lovell, who was heading west.
Ventura was transported to Powell Valley Hospital, where he was treated and released. Hammer, who told Mollett she was driving about 35 miles per hour, was cited for failure to maintain a lane of travel. Both drivers were wearing seat belts, Mollett said.
Another wreck on U.S. 14-A occurred at about 3 p.m. near the Park County/Big Horn County line east of Powell. The initial report said three people were trapped, and the Powell Volunteer Fire Department responded, but no extrication was necessary. Firefighters flipped the vehicle back onto its wheels, then returned to Powell. No one was transported.
Lt. Phil Farman of the Wyoming Highway Patrol’s Cody office said drivers should allow themselves more time to get to their destinations.
“Leave early,” Farman said. “Slow down, and wear your seat belt.”
Mathess said Monday roads all over Park County were “extremely hazardous, snow-covered and slippery.” People should only drive if they have to, he said.
In addition, “We encourage residents to periodically check on their neighbors, especially the elderly, to be certain they have sufficient supplies and heat during the frigid temperatures,” Mathess said.
Students stay indoors
Powell students didn’t go outside to play during the day because of the cold.
“Generally, when it’s close to zero, the kids stay inside for recesses,” said Kevin Mitchell, superintendent of Park County School District No. 1. “They’ll be inside all week.”
School started as usual in the storm, but buses ran an hour late Tuesday morning. The district excuses absences for students in rural areas in these cases, Mitchell said.
“Parents always have the prerogative to keep their child home in bad weather conditions, especially in the areas of the district that we know have a history of drifting snow,” he said in an email Wednesday.
As snow swirled and students slept at 4 a.m. Tuesday, Powell school officials drove around the area, surveying the wintry conditions and deciding what to do.
“I drive out and see the roads for myself,” said Mitchell. “I can’t make that decision from my house.”
At 4 a.m. Tuesday, Mitchell talked with Transportation Supervisor Dennis Wegner, who was on the roads around 3 a.m. They also checked conditions with folks in Clark, the Heart Mountain area and Big Horn County and looked for any closed state roads.
By 5:30 a.m., they decided to start buses one hour late to allow more time for snowplows and more daylight.
Aside from one bus getting stuck in the Lane 11/Lane 12 area on Tuesday morning, things went smoothly.
Before dawn on Tuesday and Wednesday, maintenance crews cleared snow from school sidewalks. The heat was turned up in school buildings so they are warmed up when students arrive. All morning activities and zero hour classes have been canceled for the remainder of the week, Mitchell said.
LaVoie said the NWS saw the storm coming for a week.
“The question is, how long does it last?” he said. “How long does it stay put?”
The answer is not a pleasant one — ice-cold temps will remain through the middle of next week.