Brief Summary of Late December Extreme Winds

A Brief Summary of Late December Extreme Wind Events across Southeast Wyoming and the Western Nebraska Panhandle

 The winter months often favor periods of strong and potentially damaging winds for the city of Cheyenne and surrounding areas of southeast Wyoming and the western Nebraska panhandle. The final days of 2011; however, were highlighted by two back-to-back extreme wind events which are not particularly common for the local area. These conditions were largely caused by the passing of multiple strong cold fronts, and the presence of very strong winds on the order of 70 to 90 MPH located a few thousand feet above the surface of the Earth.

The first weather system moved across the region on Wednesday and Thursday, December 29th. This was a prolonged high wind event, with some of the more wind prone areas such as Bordeaux and Arlington seeing frequent gusts in excess of 60 MPH for a period of 24 to 36 hours. These winds did not arrive in Cheyenne until shortly after sunrise on Thursday. At that time, sustained winds increased dramatically to around 55 MPH with frequent gusts in excess of 60 MPH persisting through much of the afternoon. The highest wind gust recorded at the Cheyenne airport was 77 MPH at around 3:00 PM on Thursday. High winds eventually spread east into the southern Nebraska panhandle, with Kimball, Nebraska, reporting a maximum wind gust of 62 MPH. There were minimal reports of damage as a result of the first wind event; however, the winds made for extremely dangerous travel for light trailers and other high-profile vehicles, prompting banned travel for such transportation modes over parts of Interstates 80 and 25.  The following picture was taken by the Wyoming State Highway Patrol near Mile Post #4 on Interstate 25, south of Cheyenne on Thursday.


Image 1 - Tractor-trailer blowover along Interstate 25 near mile marker 4.  (Photo Courtesy of Wyoming Highway Patrol)

A similar storm system raked southeast Wyoming and the western Nebraska panhandle during the morning and afternoon hours on Saturday, December 31st. A relatively quiet sunrise quickly transitioned to extreme, and in some cases destructive winds as a powerful cold front swept across the region. This event was much more widespread, and was responsible for more frequent gusts in excess of 70 MPH within the city of Cheyenne. During the mid morning hours, the Cheyenne airport recorded a damaging gust to 76 MPH, with multiple reports of damage to vehicles and manufactured structures. Most notably, this included significant damage to the roof of Sam’s Club on Dell Range Boulevard, and a few toppled business signs. A few minor injuries could also be attributed to the extreme winds (i.e. airborne objects), which is a good reminder of the dangers of high winds. In surrounding areas, a wind gust of 90 MPH was recorded near Chugwater, Wyoming, around sunrise on Saturday.

A composite map of maximum recorded wind gusts (in MPH) for each event is provided below, with the values color-coded to indicate significance. It must be noted that, due to the high volume of wind gust reports obtained by our office, and for better readability, these maps do not necessarily show all individual reports.

Here is a look at how the two most recent events compare to other historical cool season wind events for the city of Cheyenne:

Rank

Wind Gust

Date

1

86 MPH

1/20/1975

2

86 MPH

3/06/1972

3

85 MPH

1/18/1975

4

82 MPH

1/23/1923

5

81 MPH

1/11/1972

6

81 MPH

12/22/1923

7

79 MPH

7/03/1993

8

77 MPH

12/29/2011

9

77 MPH

1/08/1990

10

76 MPH

12/31/2011

 

 



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