Thousands of stranded motorists sought shelter in towns across Wyoming as a snowstorm shut down 200 miles of Interstate 80 and caused a 12-car pileup east of Laramie on Saturday.
Interstate 80 closed between Rock Springs and Cheyenne after cars slid and crashed on the icy asphalt. The eastbound lanes reopened from Laramie to Cheyenne late Saturday.
Hotels quickly filled with travelers waiting for the interstate to reopen. The American Red Cross expected to house 2,600 people in two shelters in Rawlins and 200 people in a shelter in Rock Springs.
“We were on our way back from a vacation in Yellowstone and we got kind of caught by surprise here,” said Robert Eves, 40, of Erie, Ill., with his wife and 2-year-old son at a Rawlins shelter.
They planned to sleep on the floor in their sleeping bags and hoped that the interstate would reopen .
Give Me Shelter
The Eves family had been forced to stay at a shelter in Wamsutter on Friday night because of an interstate closure. Saturday they had only traveled 40 miles before again being stopped.
Saturday night, hundreds of semi-trucks, campers and cars lined the interstate and neighborhood streets after being forced to retreat from the interstate near Rawlins.
Those in need of shelter included a busload of senior citizens on a tour, motorists injured in car crashes who were being released from a local hospital, truck drivers and vacationers.
In Rock Springs, truck drivers were asked to not park their rigs close together so that carbon monoxide would not cause air and health problems, said Brady Fox of the American Red Cross.
About 1,000 were in Rawlins shelters the previous night. They and others swamped Interstate 80 when it reopened briefly. The Rock Springs shelter opened to handle the extra people who could not be housed in Rawlins, according to the American Red Cross.
Friday, the interstate had shut down from Laramie to Rawlins and closed all the way to the Utah line on Saturday morning. Portions reopened briefly before closing again.
“We’ve been shut down going out of Rawlins east since 8 a.m. Friday morning,” said Don Brinkman of the American Red Cross in Carbon County.
A 12-car pileup east of Laramie was part of the reason for Saturday’s closure of the interstate. Two semi-trucks also crashed in the area.
“This is the first time I have ever been stopped for this long on the highway,” said truck driver Duncan Horner, who read a magazine in his stalled rig amid miles of backed-up traffic.
Motorists were injured but there was no word on how extensively, a Wyoming Highway Patrol dispatcher said.
The closure came as football fans were traveling to Laramie for an evening game between Wyoming and Nevada. Football players were also stuck in traffic, delaying the 7 p.m. kickoff by an hour.
Also shutdown was U.S. 30 between Walcott and Laramie and Wyoming 487 from Medicine Bow to just south of Casper.
The storm headed southeast after draping a swath up to 15 inches deep from Encampment to Casper. Southwest Wyoming also was hit by the storm, which blanketed Kemmerer with 10 inches before tapering off.
Fred Stasser, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Riverton, said low pressure over Idaho was funneling moisture from the southeast that turned to snow at Wyoming’s higher elevations. The storm headed into northern Colorado late Saturday night and was expected to taper off by today. Temperatures in the 50s and 60s were forecast for Monday.
By Saturday evening, 8 to 10 inches of snow piled up in Douglas and caused a garage roof to collapse.
In southeastern Wyoming, several inches were reported in Cheyenne, Lusk, Saratoga, Encampment and Centennial. At least 4 inches accumulated in Wheatland, Rawlins, Bill, Guernsey and Glenrock. Laramie reported an inch of snow, according to the National Weather Service.
“The worst of the accumulations is probably over,” said meteorologist Mike Weiland of the National Weather Service in Cheyenne.
To the north and west, 12 to 15 inches of snow were reported in Casper, 12 in Wamsutter, 10 in Rock Springs, 6 in Lander, 6-8 in Kemmerer, 3 in Riverton, 3.5 in Buffalo, 4 north of Cody, 4 in Greybull and 1 to 2 in Jackson.