Late Spring Killer Blizzard #ThisWeekInWYHistory

Young attractive man brushing the snow off his car on a cold winter day

(Gillette, Wyo.) People this week have noticed a considerable improvement in the weather. While it seemed we had a winter stubbornly unwilling to dislodge itself and yield to spring, a blizzard that began on April 24, 1984, makes our early spring weather seem almost tropical by comparison.

The storm hit the northern two-thirds of the state, coming down on Campbell County especially hard. It started as a cold rain that morphed into wet snow, sticking solidly to everything and making roads extremely slick.

By the morning of April 25, eight inches of snow had fallen. There was no way to get to or leave Gillette for two days. The state closed all the Highways 14-16, 50 and 59. The interstate was also closed.

Another 15 inches would fall on April 26 and 27, for a total of 2 feet of snow. Some areas got up to 3 feet of snow. Driven by 65 mph winds, snow drifts reached as high as 20 feet. The winds destroyed a drive-in theater in Basin. The weight of the snow damaged roofs and brought down trees.

The storm caught a lot of people off guard, with deadly consequences. A rancher near Wright was hauling hay for his livestock and got stranded in the storm. Another near Sundance was caught in the same storm. They both died of exposure. Hundreds of motorists were stranded all across the county.

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With the storm coming so late in the year, the agricultural industry suffered devastating losses. The sheep had been recently shorn, and livestock was well into lamb and calving season, which left the animals vulnerable to the weather. Some ranchers reported losses of up to 95 percent of their sheep and 50 percent of their cattle. More than 200,000 sheep and cattle perished.

Almost every mine in the Powder River Basin was closed, as were schools and most other businesses.

After the storm was over, the temperature quickly rose, which caused some minor flooding.

While the state has experienced far more devastating storms, including the “bomb cyclone” of 1949, the 1984 storm remains the worst late-spring winter snow event Wyoming has seen.

Originally from New Mexico, Killough began his career writing freelance for a weekly magazine in Albuquerque while completing his undergraduate degree. In addition to reporting on uranium mining in western New Mexico, he spent three years reporting in western North Dakota during the height of the oil boom. He can be reached at kevin@county17.com or 701-641-6603.