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Fierce storms pound county, stay mostly in rural areas
Jun 25, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
Several storms swept through the Wind River Basin on Tuesday evening, causing short bursts of hail and lightning that caught area residents unawares.
The first storm formed at about 5 p.m. Tuesday near Sand Draw and moved east-northeast toward Gas Hills Road. National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Lipson said the system created "pea-sized" hail at about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday about nine miles east of Riverton.
A little more than an hour later, another "big one," generating three-quarter-inch hail between Midvale and Campbell's Corner, Lipson said. He followed that storm east toward Castle Gardens and observed a 2-inch-deep layer of larger hail -- about 1-inch in diameter -- on the ground.
"(That storm) pretty much held together then came back to life over Castle Gardens," Lipson said. "The road you turn off ... to get to Castle Gardens is where the apex of the storm seemed to be."
As that weather pattern drifted east into "no man's land," Lipson said another storm trekked east over Lander and across the Wind River Indian Reservation. That system created a high concentration of lightning at about 8 p.m. over Sinks Canyon.
"The highest density of close strikes occurred between Fort Washakie and Ethete at about 9 p.m.," he said. "There was quite a tight cluster of lightning (that) extended up toward Buckhorn Flats up to Midvale."
The storm weakened at that point, and Lipson said the weather "rapidly cleared out" from the west.
"There was still some lingering stuff over Gas Hills and Natrona County, but that was it," he said.
The activity is typical for late spring and early summer, Lipson continued, describing a north-northwest air flow currently impacting Fremont County.
"Whenever you have a west-northwest flow, thunderstorms tend to have a higher propensity for producing a lot of hail," he said. "And it was just general instability and moisture. We're kind of in this pattern right now where these weak disturbances come through about every 24 hours, some stronger than others."
Two nights ago, he said a lightning storm that moved through the basin between 10:30 p.m. Monday and 1:30 a.m. Tuesday started a grass fire near Boysen Dam.
The Tuesday evening storms resulted in at least two lightning-related calls to area fire departments, beginning just before 8 p.m. in the 2200 block of Squaw Creek Road in Lander. Fremont County Fire Protection District Battalion 3 Capt. Dalton Sanders said his agency confirmed the lightning strike, which may have hit a juniper tree on the ridge above the residential area.
"It was witnessed by a neighbor -- he watched the strike," Sanders said. "He saw some flames and smoke so he called it in. But there was a deluge of rain that came with that storm that snuffed the fire out."
Officials surveyed the scene to make sure there wasn't any fire "creeping around," but Sanders said they never found anything.
At about 9:10 p.m., firefighters were called to the 8400 block of U.S. Highway 26 near Crowheart between Bull and Dinwoody lakes, where a house reportedly was struck by lightning. Officials said they checked the home and didn't find any fire.
"I'm sure it probably got hit, but it didn't cause (a blaze)," Fremont County Fire Protection District deputy chief Dan Oakley said.
He said the weather Tuesday evening was "impressive."
"There was a lot of lightning and heavy rain with some hail and pretty good winds," he said. "But it didn't last too long."
More to come
The NWS forecasts more precipitation Wednesday through Saturday for the Wind River Basin. The weather overnight Wednesday is expected to include isolated thunderstorms along and east of the Continental Divide, some of which may become "strong with hail ... heavy rain and gusty wind," according to the NWS.
On Thursday, the storms will be isolated or scattered in the afternoon and evening, with the potential for more gusty winds and hail. There is a chance of showers and thunderstorms on Friday and Saturday as well.