A Look Back at Cheyenne’s Brutal Thanksgiving Blizzard of 1979
When dawn broke on Thanksgiving morning in 1979, Wyoming woke to an icy wasteland. After two days of brutal blizzarding conditions, Cheyenne and the surrounding region were buried beneath a snow mountain.
Over two feet of snow, twenty-six inches, to be precise, had fallen between November 19 and November 22, 1979. In a single day, nearly twenty inches of snow had fallen over the capital city. Cheyenne was stranded.
The storm's damage was impressive, requiring the mobilization of the Wyoming National Guard to conquer the heavy snow blocking highways and roads in the state. Clearing out the snow so travel could resume took days - the National Weather Service reported that some roads remained closed through the end of November. So difficult was travel that farmers needed hay airlifted to feed their cattle. NWS reported drifts reaching eight feet in height.
Of course, winter storms on Thanksgiving aren't exceedingly rare, though they aren't exactly common, either. Cheyenne has had a few Thanksgiving storms that received over three inches of snow - most recently in 2019. But storms as powerful as the 1979 blizzard are rare. The New York Times reported that "in Wyoming, where a record 24 inches of snow was on the ground in Cheyenne, National Guardsmen with snowplows worked through the night to rescue about 70 motorists stranded up to eight hours on Interstate 25 between the capital and the Colorado border." Nearly 200 people were saved by the Laramie County Sheriff's Department from cars stranded on I-25, and several pregnant women required help to make it to the hospital.
The 1979 blizzard holds the record for most snow on the ground before Thanksgiving, as mentioned by the NWS in their post from Tuesday, November 14, 2023. In 2018, NWS asked folks to share their memories of the record-breaking snowstorm - here's what the public had to say:
Clearing Snow for Days
"I was actually stranded at home with my younger sister, just the 2 of us until the day after Thanksgiving. Someone finally came and got me and then I moved snow, all over town, for 36 straight hours. When school opened back up, I missed the first day because I was clearing the CHS parking lots at 3 in the morning. One heck of a storm, for sure!" - Russ Howe
Can you imagine clearing snow for more than 24 hours?
Horses Aren't All-Terrain Vehicles
"After a few days dad got the backhoe started and dug us out and made a path from the middle of Jefferson Rd to the side road next to the interstate all the way to Wheatland. All the neighbors followed him. We ran out of bread, milk. He bought powdered milk because the stores shelves were empty. The next door neighbor tried to ride his horse to town and got stuck in the snow with him. We had Thanksgiving dinner was just the three of us. we were supposed to go to my sister's house in town. Nothing came out of Wheatland for a few days in or out. I was in highschool then the 9th grade." - Cherie Harper Pierce-Wilson
Tunneling Through Snow
"We lived over by East High. Spent most of my time climbing the drifts to the top of the Pay n' Pack attached to the K-mart. Jumping down into the drifts and tunneling out. Mom made me wear bread bags on my feet under my boots. I think we were out there nearly all day for several days." - Patti Hartley
Celebrating Thanksgiving with Stranded Families
"My parents were in Hawaii. We stayed with my grandparents and welcomed 2 families of stranded strangers to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us!" - Kim Seidel Ligocki
"Totally remember, even though about 8. We cancelled plans to go to Denver, and instead hosted 2 stranded families at our house. We made snow tunnels." - Mike Howshar
Amazed by Mother Nature
"I had just moved to Cheyenne 2 mos before and never had experienced such a storm. I was warm and safe in my apt. and loved the blizzard! To me it was amazing! I could not get my '59 chevy going for a few days after the storm so had to walk downtown to work and back for a few days(that's where JC Penney was then)." - Carrie Sides
And...Not Surprised at All
"My family had just moved here from North Dakota. I couldn’t understand why the city shut down. The amount of snow was normal for us." - Dawn Williams
Cheyenne Was A Community Working Together
"I was a police officer then, here in Cheyenne. They got snowcats and drivers somewhere and we responded to calls for assistance in them. Everybody worked together and helped each other. When I eventually got off work we had cornbread for Thanksgiving dinner 'cause that's all I had all the ingredients for! As terrible as the storm was, it was fun!" - Mary Neese
Do you have memories of the 1979 blizzard? Share them with us below:
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Gallery Credit: Corey Irwin