News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Wet snow wreaks havoc on county
Sep 27, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
It was about 2:30 a.m. Friday when Becky Miller of Riverton heard a loud crash in her kitchen.
"The house shook; it rattled the windows," Miller said. "It sounded like there was going to be a hole in the side of the house."
Her guess wasn't off by much -- a branch from a cottonwood tree had fallen under the weight of Riverton's first winter snowstorm and crashed through the roof of Miller's home on Westridge Drive.
"It pierced into my kitchen," Miller said. "It came through just above my sink."
She is grateful that no one in her family was injured in the incident. In fact, Miller said her daughters Grace, 12, Cassandra, 8, and Moriah, 6, all slept through the noise, though 9-month-old Noelle did wake up when she heard the crashing sound. Miller's husband, Lyle, and 16-year-old son Morgan were house-sitting nearby.
By midday Friday, Miller was watching workers from Cedar Mountain Tree and Lawn Care remove the branch from her kitchen. Her two oldest children were home, too, helping her clean up the house and yard.
"We have several branches that were down," Miller said. "There are branches everywhere. The neighbor behind us, his tree split in half, and the half that broke fell into the street."
The heavy, wet snow caused similar problems throughout Fremont County starting Thursday evening and lasting through midday Friday. Riverton Volunteer Fire Department chief Mike Hutchison said local crews have been "going from call to call to call" since about 10:45 p.m. Thursday.
"It just (now) kind of let up," he said just before noon Friday. "But I don't even want to say that or we'll get another five or six."
His last call had come in about an hour before, when yet another tree branch fell onto a power line. Hutchison said most of the almost 40 reports his department has received in the past 12 hours were regarding downed wires.
"Most of them have been tree branches that (were) causing the power lines to arc and spark and catch on fire," Hutchison said. "A few of them we had to put out, but most of them kind of went out on their own as soon as the power shut down."
More than 5,000 High Plains Power customers were without power Friday morning, and Rocky Mountain Power reported 2,266 power outages in the Lander-Riverton area. Both companies were still assessing the damage, and representatives didn't know when service would be restored to customers.
"We don't have a clue, not until the snow gets off the trees and they get back to some sort of normal position," High Plains general manager Jeff Hohn said.
Both power companies have had crews out working since Thursday night.
Rocky Mountain started receiving reports of outages just after 7 p.m. Thursday, company spokesman Dave Eskelsen said.
"We'll probably be cleaning it up for most of the day," he said. "People should be prepared to be without power for an extended period."
Hohn said all of Dubois was without power by Friday morning, as were areas around Riverton and outside of Lander.
In Ethete, Wyoming Indian Elementary School didn't have power starting at about 9:15 a.m. Friday. But principal Owen St. Clair said classes were still in session at about noon.
"We're still teaching," he said. "The classrooms are still warm enough, and there's enough sunlight, (so) we're still doing a regular day."
He said the power could come back at any moment, but his staff is planning to go all day without it. They went to Lander to get extra meat for sandwiches at lunch time, when students will also have fresh vegetables to eat and cold milk to drink.
"We had to scramble a bit, but we're going to make it work," St. Clair said.
-- Staff writer Eric Blom contributed to this story