The most prominent storm system experienced in Converse County this winter season couldn’t have struck at a worse time of day Jan. 20. Just as residents and area workers embarked on commutes toward home between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., they were greeted with less-than-ideal road conditions to navigate.
What started as rain soon changed over to snow, bringing a slushy mix that had drivers sliding around turns and, in more extreme cases, off the road. As the storm intensified, snowfall and howling winds brought near whiteout conditions, causing a flurry of vehicle accidents in city limits, along I-25, and on remote highways.
It wasn’t long until I-25 was placed under a “no unnecessary travel” advisory between Douglas and Glenrock, while WYO 59 wasn’t in much better shape as energy workers attempted to go to and from work in the remote region to the north of town.
One man was driving six coal miners via a Coach USA bus to the mine when a serious accident broke out along WYO 59 at 5 p.m. According to the driver, who asked to remain anonymous, he came around a notorious curve in the road he knew needed to be approached with caution at milepost 16.
“That curve is already dangerous,” he said. “We know to come up slowly. . . it is almost a blind curve.”
Through the curtain of dense blowing snow, two vehicles sitting stationary in the middle of the road suddenly came into view.
“It was almost a complete whiteout,” he said. “The wind was blowing my coach to the side.”
The man saw a car in the front not moving, with a white truck attempting to turn left onto a side road servicing an oil rig. Since there is no turning lane to free up the flow of traffic onto the service road, the last-second attempt to break and swerve out of the way wasn’t enough.
“I was going 30-35 miles per hour and I tried to slow down, but I couldn’t,” he said.
The pickup truck quickly swerved left into the side road, while both the bus and the car veered right.
“I thought, ‘No problem,’” the bus driver said after missing the car. “But the car moved right in front of me and I had no choice but to go in the ditch.”
The man missed the car, but a second bus driver did not. According to witnesses, the impact spun the car around, eventually pushing the car into the first bus, with both winding up in the ditch.
A second bus transporting miners following closely behind approached the scene, striking the car and sending it into the right-hand ditch while also pushing it into the first bus.
According to the driver, the vehicle accident resulted in a minor injury of the driver of the car, who was the sole occupant. Paramedics transported the injured driver for treatment of minor injuries.
The man’s bus sustained minimal damage, while the car was “pretty well beat up.” The highway was closed for a period of time as it took approximately two hours for a wrecker to come to clean up the wreckage.
First responders based out of Douglas had a busy afternoon and evening as well, with four accidents being called in at the height of the messy commute between 3-4 p.m., according to Douglas Police Department Lt. Chad Holler. Following the initial surge of vehicle accidents, they experienced a quiet period before two additional accident calls came later in the evening.
“We were prepared as well as we could be,” Holler said.
Although the roads remained slick and ice-covered throughout the evening and into the morning hours of Tuesday, area plow truck drivers had turned a corner on clearing area roadways and applying adequate sand to the mix to provide additional traction for the morning commute.
The storm had a significant impact throughout the entirety of Wyoming, as by 10 a.m. the day after, only three small sections of road within the state had low travel impacts. All other roadways were either still closed, or had high or moderate travel impacts.
Douglas schools were open Tuesday but rural schools were closed as rural bus routes were cancelled. Rural school students will make up the snow day on Friday, Jan. 25.