Feb 12, 2017 - From staff reportsABRUPT WEATHER CHANGE SENDS ICE-CHUNKED WATER OVER BANKS
Heavy snow and thick ice locked in place by weeks of unseasonable cold have been freed by a rapid burst of warm, windy weather in recent days, bringing widespread flooding to populated areas of Fremont County.
Flooding continued to be reported Saturday in Riverton, Lander, Hudson and areas of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Fremont County emergency management coordinator Kathi Metzler said numerous homes and businesses suffered water damage. At least one person was forced out of his home because of high water, she said. No injuries have been reported.
The bizarre change in weather sent temperatures warming from the 20s to nearly 50 degrees within a couple of hours Thursday night -- after sunset -- melting snow that had piled up in in record-setting amounts since December at lower elevations during the last couple of months.
"It came up a nice 20 degrees last night ... along the mountain there, and it just started running," Metzler said.
The warm wind continued most of the day Friday, and by the afternoon flooding that had inconvenienced Lander significantly earlier in the day had spread downstream. Snow in the Lander foothills raced downward, inundating streams and rivers that had been frozen nearly or completely solid.
With the water turning as brown as it does during spring runoff, big chunks of ice were displaced by the thousand, jamming up narrower parts of some streams, crashing into bridge abutments in others, and interfering with normal water flow almost everywhere.
Hudson town clerk Christy Kimber said discussions were taking place Saturday about seeking a state of emergency designation from local and state authorities. Flooding that began Thursday night has spread through much of the town on the west side of Highway 789.
Sunday's weather was predicted to be cooler and calmer. Seasonal norms for Feb. 12 show a typical high of about 35 degrees.
No precipitation is in the forecast for several days at lower elevations, but in the Wind River Mountains significant snow has fallen again in areas that already had snowpack well above average for the date, said Jim Fahey, a Riverton-based National Weather Service hydrologist.
He said the lower elevation snowpack in the Riverton area through the first half of February is the most he's seen in his 13 years on the job locally.
Increased streamflows caused a short closure of U.S. 287 on the north edge of Lander on Friday as water rose rapidly in Squaw Creek. Water flowed through the Museum of the American West and Pioneer Museum parking lots, across U.S. 287, and through the parking lot of radio station KOVE-KDLY for about five hours on Friday. School was canceled in Lander on Friday.
Central Wyoming College issued an alert to all students, encouraging them to stay home for the day if coming to class involved traveling on flooding roads. Neither the main campus in Riverton nor the new Lander CWC Center was affected directly by flooding. Riverton schools were not affected.
Riverton's high school basketball teams were able to travel to Pinedale for Friday night's games, but Lander did not go to Star Valley, where similar weather was disrupting travel.
At the National Weather Service office in Riverton, chief meteorologist Chris Jones predicted flooding would recede Sunday.
He said the perfect mixture of weather conditions led to the unusual mid-winter run off. He said the water is strictly from low-elevation melting.
Jones noted that central Fremont County normally might see temperatures reaching the low 50s only briefly this time of year, if at all. But temperatures Thursday and Friday reached the low 50s for almost 12 hours, triggering the flooding.
Highs Saturday were in the low 40s in both Riverton and Lander, with Sunday's highs expected to reach only the low to mid-30s.
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