Winds and cold wreak havoc on Platte County

Sometime around 10 a.m. the wind was gusting at 70 mph and those winds were sustained. The first 200-year-old pine tree went crashing down and more were bending and according to people passing by, you could hear cracking and snapping.

WHEATLAND – The I-25 corridor and towns to the east and west are being brutalized by the winter weather.

Last Thursday there were sustained winds that brought trees down, knocked power out and closed down sections of I-25.

“When winds aloft come down to the earth’s surface due to the sunlight effect, it can be devastating,” said Cheyenne National Service meteorologist Brandon Wills. “What we experienced was a prolonged event which caused sustained winds to continue through most of the day. All along the I-25 corridor there were winds recorded anywhere from 60-100 miles per hour.”

Wills said that Douglas had 75 mph winds recorded, Chugwater had 70 and Wheatland had over 80. He said that the prolonged pattern caused WYDOT to close roads all the way from Cheyenne to Douglas and said that the Coleman observation site recorded winds at 99 mph.

Following the extreme winds of Thursday was a blast of arctic air that hung over Platte County like a weighted blanket as the winds subsided. Wills said that in some places there would be wind chills to -20 degrees. He said that the snow would mainly stay around I-80, but in places like Bordeaux, there would be significant snow totals.

In Wheatland on Thursday a loud crash midmorning caused many to see that one of the 200 year old pine trees on the north library lawn went down and literally ripped up the tree by the roots before it came crashing to the ground.

At that same time a large cedar went down on 10th and South Streets. By noon power had gone out due to the many trees that had fallen over power lines. City workers labored feverishly in the gale-force winds 20 and 30 feet above the ground trying to fix the problems. After about an hour, the power was restored, but the damage continued.

By 4 p.m. the north lawn of the library lost two more pines estimated between 100 and 200 years old. At the courthouse, according to Palmer Canyon Fire volunteer Tim Walker, the ground started heaving.

The courthouse which is in the stages of renovation had two ancient pines on their north lawn and the winds were bending them like toothpicks.

“We felt the need to do something,” Walker said. “We were afraid that if those trees came down, they would demolish the temporary dispatch trailer that had been set up near the courthouse. It took us four or five hours in the winds and we had to get a telehandler and attached cables from the pines to our trucks parked out on the street. (County Commission Chairman) Steve Shockley was the one up top doing the high work.”

According to Walker’s sister, Rhonda, “The county Treasurer, Kristi Rietz, is married to a past Palmer Canyon Fire Chief Jamie Rietz, who is still very active in Palmer Canyon Fire, so I’m assuming that’s why Palmer Canyon was called in. Our fire community is all very close knit with many family and lifelong friend connections.”

Although Rhonda Walker wasn’t involved with the initial decision about how they were going to secure the trees, she know they were afraid they were going to fall on the temporary trailer where the dispatch center is being housed during the renovations.

Jamie Rietz and Duncan Irvine Palmer Canyon Unit are Walker’s neighbors and have been friends since childhood.

“Duncan Irvine called my brother, Tim Walker (Laramie Peak Unit 1) because he knew he had a wench on his truck. They were high school classmates.”

Cleanup began as the wind died down last Friday and by New Year’s Day, Dale McKain had made some serious headway with a chainsaw and a work-ethic.

McKain who has been in the Wheatland area for 43 years is always looking to help out in the community and find fuel for his woodstove as well.

“I asked them about it because I burn firewood,” McKain said. “So I figured I’d clean up everything. I started on this Friday. The bad thing about these trees is that the water source is on the surface, so the roots don’t go down. They just stay on top.”

McKain should be pretty much finished with the cleanup by this week.


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