Officials were warning drivers to stay off the roads in the Black Hills and in eastern Wyoming, where reports of 5 to 10 inches of snow were common. Forecasters urged travelers to carry survival kits and to stay in their vehicles if they get stranded.
“I’ve lived in Wyoming my whole life and I’ve never seen it like this this early,” Patricia Whitman, shift manager at the Flying J truck stop in Gillette, said in a telephone interview. She said her truck stop’s parking lot was full of travelers waiting out the storm.
“I know several of the businesses nearby are completely closed because they can’t even get workers into work — it’s pretty nasty,” she said.
The snow also snapped tree limbs that knocked out power lines in parts of the state, causing thousands of people to lose power.
It was a similar scene at the typically bustling Pilot Travel Center in western South Dakota near Rapid City, about 40 miles southwest of Deadwood. It was like a ghost town Friday morning, which store general manager John Barton attributed to drivers likely heeding forecasters’ warnings to stay off the roads.
“Yesterday we were really busy,” Barton said. “I think a lot of people got ahead of it.”
By Friday afternoon, South Dakota officials had closed I-90 from the Wyoming border to Wall — a 110-mile stretch. No travel was advised in Rapid City, where first responders were overwhelmed with calls for stuck vehicles and downed trees and power lines making some roads impassable. Police spokeswoman Tarah Heupel said snow and ice was accumulating on traffic signals, making the lights difficult to see.
Although early October snowfalls aren’t unusual for the region, a storm of such magnitude happens only once every decade or two on the Plains, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Trimarchi said.