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NWS predicts strong winter storm will hit Campbell County Monday

(National Weather Service Graphic)

GILLETTE, Wyo. — National Weather Service’s Rapid City, South Dakota, office reported this afternoon that area residents might experience a strong winter storm Dec. 12 to 15.

Campbell County Emergency Management Coordinator David King and Town of Wright Emergency Management Coordinator and WPAC Director Robby Gallob said residents should be prepared, just like first responders and government agencies are preparing.

(National Weather Service Graphic)

The forecast

Northern Campbell County is speficially mentioned in the watch, which as of 1:42 p.m. today runs from Monday evening through late Wednesday night. The anticipated storm could include heavy snow, wind and mix precipitation for parts of northeast Wyoming and western South Dakota.

Total accumulations of 6 to 12 inches of snow are possible, and winds could gust as high as 45 miles per hour in portions of northwestern South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming, making travel very difficult to impossible, the alert said. The winds could bring down tree branches, and widespread blowing snow may significantly reduce visibility.

Several inches of snow is possible, and the northern Black Hills could get 1 to 2 feet of snow. Strong northwest winds with gusts exceeding 50 miles per hour on the plains east of the Black Hills could lead to blizzard conditions. In south-central South Dakota, freezing rain and sleet with icing are possible.

“Much uncertainty remains with respect to the track, duration, and intensity of the storm, which will impact snow amounts and winds,” the winter storm watch announcement said. “This is especially the case for areas just east and southeast of the Black Hills (including Rapid City) where downslope drying could highly affect snow amounts.”

NWS said residents should monitor NOAA weather radio, local radio or television, or the internet for updates on the potentially dangerous storm and take time to prepare for severe winter conditions before the storm.

King said that the NWS did a briefing for the county this afternoon and it looks like, after some minor snow over the Dec. 10 and 11 weekend, significant snowfall will likely start the afternoon of Dec. 12.

He said that it’ll be a major, multi-day snow event, and the county might see snow through late Dec. 14 or early Dec. 15 before it leaves Campbell County. With sustained winds of about 35 miles per hour, snow drifts are possible, he said. He said southern Campbell County and parts of Weston County, away from the hills, will have a downslope situation with drier air and less snow.

The American, Canadian and European computer models are matching up on this storm even though the forecast is a few days out, King said. The storm predicted for Dec. 12 through 15 won’t compare to Winter Storm Atlas of October 2013, in which snow was heavy and wet, but it will be significant, he said. Wednesday might be worst, he said.

Who needs to prepare

People who are from states in which heat or rainfall are the most prevalent problems need to get prepared, Gallob said.
“I always make the joke that ‘You see those pretty Norman Rockwell photos where the snow comes straight down?’ In Wyoming, it comes in sideways, so you see more of it, and it’s accompanied by 60 miles per hour winds,” he said.
He said that as the postmaster for Wright, he’s seen that with every significant winter storm, at least one or two families have left Wright.
Other new residents from states like Minnesota, might be accustomed to snow, King said.
He said that what always astounds him is the longtime residents who aren’t ready since they didn’t think about it and might have gone through several blizzards.
Gallob said that there’s always a contingency of people who are “overreactive proactively” and will rush to stores to stockpile, rather than simply being proactive.
Residents in southern Campbell County, or south of Haight Road, which could see about 5 to 8 inches of snow and downsloping winds, will be in the “minor” part of the storm, he said. These residents should make sure they have any diapers and nonperishable foods before the storm, rather than during the storm, when going to the store will be challenging.
“It’s a good idea to have two weeks’ worth of non-perishable food per person in the home that’s what FEMA recommends in their two weeks ready program,” he said. “But you need to have at least a couple days’ worth even if it’s snack-type stuff.”
He said that as an emergency manager and as a private person, he avoids traveling on roads when road conditions are poor.
“There should be nothing, if I’ve done my due diligence, that I need out there bad enough [to be on the road],” he said. “I might have to go to work, but, OK, that’s me. I’m not going to taking my family to the grocery store to go get popcorn and peanut butter to have a frickin’ movie night. I’m going to do the very minimum I have to be out there, because I’m putting myself at risk, I’m putting others at risk, and eventually, our first responders, if something goes wrong. It’s all about being part of the solution.”

King said restocking may take some time since Denver might be affected by the storm.

“It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be out all week or anything like that, but this would be one of those times that you don’t necessarily want to be low on diapers and you don’t want to be low on baby formula and things like that,” he said.

Families need to make sure that children who walk to school have winter clothes in case they can’t get a ride. There’s a coat rack at the Wright post office with winter gear that anyone can take for free.
“If you don’t have a coat, make sure you get that equipment,” he said.

If the power were to go out

Gallob said residents should always have a resiliency plan that includes some non-perishable food, just in case power goes out. This is particularly wise for families with young children, he said.

“We’re very lucky in this area because our energy groups are top-notch and they get it on as fast as they can, so you’re not without power long,” he said.

Wright’s water is gravity-fed, so even if the power goes out, residents can keep water trickling so pipes won’t freeze, he said.
If the power goes out, families can huddle together in the smallest bedroom of their home, and use blankets and shared body heat to keep warm, he said.
“It’s like a family campout,” he said.
People with continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machines or other medical devices that rely on power should make a backup plan for charging them, he said.
Emergency responders’ response to incidents might be slower than usual if there are road closures, King said.

More specific safety precautions

King asked residents to take these precautions:

  • Don’t put ashes from your fireplace into a plastic bag on your wooden porch. When the wind blows, ashes could flare up and start a fire.
  • Think about animals. If it’s too cold for you to be outside, then it’s too cold for pets to be outside without protection.
  • Carry any daily medications, ideally a few days’ supply, with you in your vehicle and with you to work just in case you get stranded.
  • Put snow tires on your vehicle if you haven’t already.
  • Find your snow shovel or snow blower.
  • Be careful not to overexert yourself while shoveling.
  • Pay attention to ventilation safety to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Ways to help now and in the future

  • Anyone interested in volunteering with the Red Cross to help with potential warming shelters can contact King at 307-686-7477. They need more volunteers, King said.
  • Check in on your elderly neighbors and make sure they’re doing OK.

“Some of the best block parties I think are when everybody’s out there with a shovel and a snow blower helping each other open up driveways and sidewalks,” King said.

  • Keep fire hydrants and gas meters clearly accessible, Gallob added.

National agencies’ recommendations

For more information on general weather preparedness tips, check out Ready.gov, Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

County 17 will keep readers informed as much as possible regarding the storm. You can also keep an eye on Campbell County’s Facebook page and listen to NOAA weather radio.