Friday the 13th Blizzard left its mark
It will not go down as one of the worst blizzards in the history of Yuma and the surrounding region, but the Friday the 13th
School closures, road closures, prolonged power outages, stranded motorists, scattered livestock all over the place — last Friday’s storm had it all.
There were plenty of warning leading up to it, as forecasts were calling for snow and high winds, though the amount of snow varied with forecasts.
However, it came with all the ferocity the most dire forecasts predicted.
Precautionary measures began Thursday evening when area school districts began canceling Friday’s classes. Yuma School District-1 made its announcement right after 8 p.m.
Friday dawned cloud, wet and windy.
The snow began falling earlier than expected, with a heavy downfall by about 9 a.m., and Yuma already was getting into shutdown mode by the noon hour.
Postal carriers in Yuma, Eckley and Otis were called off their routes due to safety concerns. There was no mail delivery on Saturday because the mail trucks could not get down a closed Highway 34.
Highways in the region began being closed around 12:30 p.m., and all were closed within the hour.
The snow and wind continued unabated through the evening into the early morning Saturday. It was sunny fairly early, though, and everyone began digging out — though there were also plenty of that occurring throughout the storm.
Most area highways were reopened between 3 and 6 p.m. Saturday.
Besides the CDOT crews working on the highways, Yuma County Road & Bridge was busy all weekend trying to break through drifts, clearing roads for residents, especially ranchers trying to find their cattle. Supervisor JR Colden said he fielded 69 calls on Saturday, mostly guys trying to chase down their loose cattle. He said the crews were still at it Monday. The tallest drift was six feet by Yuma.
“Yuma seemed to get it the worst,” Colden said, “but there was enough snow everywhere to get drifts.”
The crew at W-Y Combined Communications were inundated with calls throughout the storm, while also dealing the temporary power and phone line issues. By all accounts, though, the dispatchers did a great job taking calls and getting emergency responders where they could to help.
Yuma County Emergency Manager Roger Brown noted it was fortunate that nobody out in the country experienced a serious medical emergency.
The City of Yuma experienced two power outages on Friday. The first came at mid-morning when the winds whipped the already ice-covered lines, causing the breaker to go out with the center circuit, City Manager Scott Moore said, impacting Main St. south from the railroad tracks all the way up to City Hall and Yuma High School, and east along Highway 34 hitting places like Shop-All and CRVS/Eagle. That one lasted a short amount of time.
However, the second one knocked out most of the north side of town for several hours during the afternoon. Once again, ice and winds resulted in the power outage. Moore said this one resulted in the wire being burned to the ground, so it took longer to get the power restored.
However, that was nothing like the countryside all over Yuma and Washington counties. Some residents were without power until evening, still others until mid-morning Saturday, and still others until late afternoon and into evening. There were even some that went without power until Sunday.
Linemen from Y-W Electric, as well as Highline Electric Association, bravely worked tirelessly throughout the storm and all weekend restoring power — much to the appreciation and gratitude of its customers.
Y-W Electric reported all homes had been restored by Sunday, April 15. As of Monday morning, a total of 38 broken poles had been found, as well as many cross arms and wires needing repair. YW estimated that 75 percent of accounts were affected in the two counties. The approximate number of homes affected during the storm was 6,000. Highline Electric, which provides power to the north end of Yuma County, also reported about 75 of its accounts were impacted.
YW expressed its appreciation to the many electric cooperative members who provided tractors to pull trucks through impassible roads, as well as the folks who provided meals to the linemen.
Country dwellers simply had to hunker down and wait it out, staying warm with blankets, fireplaces and whatever other means necessary. Those with working generators likely had it better than others.
Clarence Young, who lives with his family about 15 miles south of Yuma noted the water to their home comes from a well with an electric pump, like most rural homes, so that made it a bit tougher.
A lot of country residents also ventured out into the weather to try to find scattered livestock.
Many calves did not survive the storm, though final numbers are still being accumulated. There were reports of at least one herd losing approximately 20 calves.
Cattle scattered all over the countryside as electric fences lost power, and the snow and wind pushed the animals all over.
Thomas Holtorf and some of his crew at Schramm Feedlot spent all day Friday sat in a pickup on the road outside feedlot’s main gate. When any cattle wandered by, the pushed them into the feedlot, Holtorf said.
And there were a lot of them.
As of late Monday afternoon, the count was at a little more 1,800 confirmed head that had been taken in by Schramm. Holtorf said he was not sure how many more walked through the feed bunks. He said they could put 800 or so in pens, locking the rest just inside the main yard, and letting others wander the feed alleys. Eventually they all will get returned to their proper owners.
Many were still looking for stray cattle on Monday.
Young said his family operation had about 200 pairs of mothers and calves about a mile north of the family ranch house. They all showed up at the house by about 5 p.m. Friday, with a mix of different calves. By Saturday morning, there were cows and calves scattered across approximately 2 to 3 miles. They spent the day breaking through drifts to feed and gather the strays
He noted that most other ranchers had similar experiences, adding that others had it much worse and had strays wander even further away from home.
Jim Pagel sent a picture of stray chicken to the Pioneer, found at the north end of town, noting that cows are not the only animals that get stranded in a blizzard.
There were vehicles and trucks left stranded all over the region, and some motorists even had to spend the night in their vehicles.
Colden, the Road and Bridge supervisor, Saturday morning rescued a college student from California who was trying to get home from Kansas City, Missouri. She had gone around the “Road Closed” sign on Highway 36 in southern Yuma County near Idalia, ended up getting off the highway and eventually got stuck on Yuma County Road 5 just east of Road T. Colden said he took her to his house, where she was fed and took a nap, then she was on her way again.
Members of a group called Colorado 4X4 Rescue and Recovery were called out to the area by Mike Burnett, a member of the group who works for the Northeast Colorado Health Department in Sterling.
Logan County made the request for the team as it became apparent many travelers were stuck as evening approached on Friday.
Working as teams in beefed up four-by-four vehicles, following the CDOT snowplows, the volunteers rescued about 10 people stuck in vehicles, covering highways 6, 61, 63, 59 and 34.. Knowing there were motorists stranded in Washington and Yuma counties, Burnett said the volunteers continued into those counties on Highway 61 and Highway 34. However, there were three “missions” they could not complete because the drifts were too much. One was on Highway 61 north of Otis, another on Highway 34, and one north of Yuma on County Road G between roads 46 and 47.
Brown said that last vehicle started out on Highway 59, but wandered off on to county roads trying to find a way to keep going. He said the vehicle and its occupants were gone the next morning.
Burnett said the Rescue and Recovery team also came across approximately 40 vehicles they checked, but had been abandoned.
The Yuma County Sheriff’s Office had its military-grade MRAP rescue vehicle and its 6×6 tractor semi checking on stranded motorists and helping pull out vehicles. Sheriff’s deputies also were busy all day Friday helping out.
And then there were the truckers stuck in Yuma for most of Friday and Saturday. There were more than 20 cattle trucks, and a couple of trucks transporting swine, and their drivers that had to end up riding out the storm at CRVS/Eagle truck stop. Brown said there were approximately 500 head of livestock in the trucks, being transported from Scott
City, Kansas, to Greeley.
They were all seen lined up on Highway 34 at the west end of Highway 34 on Saturday afternoon, after someone had given a false alert that the highway had been opened. First, however, a huge drift near Quality Irrigation had to be cleared.
It eventually was, and everyone was on their way.