GOSHEN COUNTY – A historic late-winter snowstorm hit much of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska March 13-15. Winter Storm Xylia produced blizzarding conditions that caused many road closures throughout the area, flight cancellations, power outages and prevented many businesses from opening on Monday, March 15.
An interesting aspect of this storm was the fact it was named. According to weather.com, the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) names winter storms, blizzards or ice storms when their warnings have covered at least a population of 2 million or at least an area of 400,000 square kilometers. Typically, storms achieving this status number around 20 per year.
The NWS in Cheyenne began sending out winter storm advisories and warnings well ahead of the weather event, some up to five days or more in advance of the storm, cautioning residents to prepare for the storm.
During the early afternoon on Saturday, March 13, heavy moisture-rich ice and rain began to fall from the clouds above. By mid-afternoon, the rain and ice began to turn more and more to snow. The slush filled the roadways causing liquid ruts and prime hydroplaning conditions.
Thankfully, many residents and motorists remained in the safety of their homes. However, there were still a few people in the area who chose to risk the dangerous weather.
By Sunday morning, Torrington residents awoke to find their power was out. The City of Torrington Wyoming Emergency Management released a statement on Facebook stating there was a city-wide outage, including the South Torrington and highway districts east and west of Torrington.
The cause was initially unknown but was later determined to be due to the loss of a power feed from the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA). WAPA crews were eventually able to determine the cause and location of the issue and repair it.
The snow began to cease late Sunday, but the wind continued to blow. Many drifts could be seen throughout Goshen County, some were five feet deep and greater. The total accumulations reported to NWS were 30.8 inches in Cheyenne, 28.1 inches in Wheatland, 33 inches in Buford and 20 inches in Pine Bluffs.
Accumulation totals in and around Torrington, Lingle and Fort Laramie totaled around 16 to 20 inches with up to 48 inches in LaGrange. Lusk, Van Tassell, Lance Creek and Manville average around the same with 16 to 20 inches and up to 40 inches reported in Harrison, Neb.
Monday morning, the snow began to fall yet again, and the weather service forecasted light to moderate snow showers possible throughout the day and into Tuesday, March 16.
Due to the sizable snow accumulations and dangerous road conditions, many businesses decided to close Monday, until the roads were passable.
Lingle saw a multitude of trucks and other vehicles lined up in the city streets awaiting the opening of Highways 26 and 85. Trucks and trailers lined up bumper-to-bumper in front of Main Street while the drivers walked around and co-mingled with one another.
Travel was impacted on a much larger scale and not only on the ground, but also in the air. The Cheyenne Regional Airport suspended all weekend flights and Denver canceled more than 2,000 flights over the weekend and into Monday.
Adding to the local impacts, the Colorado Avalanche Information Center issued an avalanche warning for the Front Range area, according to weather.com. The warning informed citizens the snowfall would cause “large and destructive avalanches.”
On the flip side of the storm, the northern Texas Panhandle was impacted in a very different way. Several reported tornadoes touched down Saturday afternoon between Lubbock and Amarillo.
The Associate Press reported two tornadoes had touched down south of Amarillo, near Palo Duro Canyon State Park and four more had touched down near three towns north of Lubbock – Happy, Hale Center and Nazareth.
The report also noted the tornadoes had not cause any injuries, only minor damage.