Wyoming, like every other state, experiences natural disasters. But if you live in it or are planning on moving there, you’ll probably be happy to learn that Wyoming is one of the least affected States in the US when it comes to them…
This isn’t to say that the state doesn’t have any. It does, but less frequently than other states, and most of the natural disasters in Wyoming are less severe.
Great news for visitors and residents alike, although you still need to know what to do when they occur. I’ll tell you everything down below.
Wyoming is the least populous states in the US. Even Alaska has more people. In fact, it has only slightly more than half a million people living there.
Being so sparsely populated and so full of wide open spaces and rugged, unforgiving terrain, it’s a good thing that the state isn’t plagued by too many natural disasters. Isolation and a relative lack of manpower could set the stage for true catastrophe.
Most of the disasters that you’ll encounter in Wyoming consist of severe inclement weather: winter storms, severe thunderstorms, some pretty significant hail and flooding, and the occasional tornado. The rest of the time, drought is always a major concern.
But, perhaps most surprisingly and the least known to outsiders is the fact that Wyoming experiences many earthquakes.
It’s true. The state is highly active tectonically, and although it rarely gets as much attention as Nevada and California it has experienced its own share of major quakes in the past. Definitely something to be aware of.
You can be confident that you probably won’t experience severe natural disasters in Wyoming, but you still need to know what to do if they do occur.
We’ll investigate more in the following sections…
1. Winter Storms
Wyoming is no stranger to winter storms, which can be quite severe and cause significant disruption to daily life.
These storms can bring heavy snowfall, freezing rain, and strong winds, leading to hazardous driving conditions, power outages, and even avalanches in mountainous areas.
This is an especially serious concern for residents and visitors because of the aforementioned low population. Outside of the few truly populist towns, it is easy to get cut off and remain isolated in Wyoming.
If a nasty winter storm comes through and completely immobilizes an area, you might be genuinely stranded with what supplies and skills you have, nothing else.
For instance, one memorable winter storm occurred in October 2013, when a record-breaking blizzard hit the state.
The storm dumped more than 30 inches of snow in some areas, causing widespread power outages and major road closures that even the rugged and independent residents of Wyoming struggled to overcome.
Similarly, in February 2021, another powerful winter storm brought massive snowfall and strong winds.
Between the weight of the snow and the constant, gusting winds, there was considerable damage to buildings and many power poles were knocked down, leaving thousands without power and causing numerous accidents on the roads.
2. Severe Thunderstorms
Severe thunderstorms are another common natural disaster in Wyoming, although they are not usually as frequent or as severe as states a little further south.
Nonetheless, these storms can produce seriously damaging winds, large hail, and torrential rainfall, resulting in flash flooding and the usual property damage associated with these storms. In addition, lightning from these storms poses a risk to people and livestock as always.
Tornadoes are a concern from major storm systems, but Wyoming does not get tornadoes as often as some other states, and only rarely will it see a succession of powerful tornadoes.
Even so, you would be wise to heed watches and warnings for the same.
Despite not being known for truly severe thunderstorms, they happen regularly enough to be noteworthy, and perhaps most worryingly the frequency of such storms seems to be increasing going forward since the 2010s.
In 2018, a severe thunderstorm swept through the southeastern part of the state, causing extensive damage to homes, businesses, and vehicles.
The storm produced sustained winds up to 80 miles per hour and hail as large as baseballs.
Another significant storm event occurred in July 2019, when an onslaught of severe thunderstorms caused widespread flooding and damage across central and eastern Wyoming.
Hailstorms are a common occurrence in Wyoming, especially during the spring and summer months when those aforementioned severe thunderstorms are most likely.
Large hail can cause significant damage to crops, vehicles, and structures, as well as pose a risk to life and limb directly although serious injuries are rare, and deaths even rarer.
But, it is worth pointing out that Wyoming resides squarely in the middle of what is known as Hail Alley, sort of the hail equivalent of Tornado Alley which you are probably familiar with.
As expected, this means that Wyoming can experience some seriously large hail during major storm events, with golf ball size being hardly uncommon and truly massive hailstones being recorded with frightening regularity.
These larger hailstones can be directly dangerous or even lethal, and can easily batter apart vehicles or structures leaving occupants exposed or at risk of exposure.
Make sure you have a plan for dealing with a severe hail event, and if major storms are in the area, find a safe place immediately.
4. Flash Flooding
Flash flooding is a sudden natural disaster that can occur in Wyoming, and distinct from typical flooding.
Unlike areal flooding which takes place when a given area is subjected to sustained rainfall, flash flooding occurs from a relatively short but acute deluge that results in surface inundation and the overflow of other water sources.
These floods can completely submerge roads, homes, and other structures, and always posing a significant risk to life and property.
Around the world, flooding is one of the most common and most lethal natural disasters, and that’s still the case when it occurs in Wyoming.
Most folks don’t think of Wyoming as being a state that is particularly prone to major flood events, but the state has suffered plenty, including in recent memory.
In June 2015, a monumental storm front caused flash flooding in Lusk, Wyoming. The floodwaters damaged and destroyed many homes and businesses, washed out roads completely, and even caused a train derailment.
Another severe flood occurred just a few years back in August 2020, when a powerful storm brought torrential rainfall to Sheridan County, resulting in flash flooding that led to widespread evacuation of the area.
It’s an old piece of advice, if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times but it bears repeating here: anywhere that it can rain, it can flood.
You must have an evacuation plan, emergency kit and a thorough working knowledge of all evacuation routes, especially if you live in a flood-prone area.
More than the other scary, spectacular disasters, it is drought that’s one of the most common, persistent and destructive natural disasters that Wyoming has to deal with.
I know the state has a popular conception among outsiders as being a plush, green prairie, but the entire region is surprisingly dry and windswept, and needed rain isn’t always dependable…
Prolonged periods of below-normal precipitation can lead to water shortages, reduced agricultural productivity, and increased wildfire risk. Drought conditions will also negatively affect wildlife and ecosystems.
Wyoming has been struggling with drought conditions throughout its history, and it suffered one of the worst just a couple of decades ago between 1999 and 2004.
The prolonged “dry spell” led to widespread crop losses, enforced water restrictions, and seriously dangerous conditions during attendant wildfires.
Although not quite a severe, drought conditions have been on and off again throughout the 2020s so far.
Believe it or not, Wyoming is one of the most earthquake-prone states in the US! I know, I know, you haven’t heard enough bad things about it already.
While not as common as other natural disasters on this list, earthquakes, compared to other states, are much more common in Wyoming. How can this be?
Well, the state sits within the Intermountain Seismic Belt, which stretches from Montana to Arizona and experiences frequent low-magnitude earthquakes.
Although most cannot even be filled, or can only barely be detected by humans, some will cause rattling and rolling and Wyoming has experienced devastating earthquakes in the past.
One of the most significant earthquakes to strike Wyoming happened all the way back in 1959 with a whopping 7.5 magnitude. To put that in perspective, that was only a little bit longer than 60 years ago, hardly ancient history!
What are the Least Disaster-prone Areas in Wyoming?
As mentioned above, all things considered and despite the seemingly scary prognosis I’ve talked about in this article Wyoming is overall one of the least disaster-affected states in the country.
Pretty much anywhere you go you will have a much reduced risk from any given natural disaster compared to other states.
But if you really wanted to maximize your risk protection, specifically you might look at Natrona, Johnson, Bighorn, Park or Hot Springs counties.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.