Wyoming is a beautiful state that boasts a lot of open territories and a small population. I drove through during a road trip last year and I felt like I was on a voyage through no man’s land. All I needed to make the trip complete was a horse and a carriage! (Just kidding!!)
In all seriousness, though, it’s one of the states where natural disasters affect a smaller number of people because their population is the lowest amongst all other US states.
What natural disasters does Wyoming have?
Wyoming’s most common disasters include wildfires, floods, severe storms, landslides, droughts, winter storms, and earthquakes. Other less significant disasters include tornadoes, volcanoes, and power outages. Between 1953 and 2019, the Equality State declared 34 major disasters, of which fires and floods happened the most according to FEMA.
Wyoming averages 600 to 700 wildfires per year. The Northern region typically experiences higher heat and can become more vulnerable to wildfires during the summer and fall seasons. The state typically receives a fair amount of precipitation in the winter and spring, but when the warm weather comes around, everything dries up and creates a risk for fires.
Wyoming has had a long history of fires. One of the worst years was 1988 when approximately 36% of Yellowstone National Park burned down, along with much of the surrounding areas. The fires that started in June lasted up until November.
It’s important to remember that dry seasons pose a much greater wildfire risk. Of course, not all wildfires are caused by humans, but some are, so it should be our duty to be extra careful for the sake of prevention. Camping and bonfires are always fun, but keep them controlled and don’t do it on windy days. Pay attention to the wildfire risk signs in your community. In my town, our fire department has a huge sign in the front that tells you what the risk level is for that day. When it’s high, bonfires are not encouraged.
You should also protect your home in the event of a fire caused by natural events such as lighting. Prevention tips include maintaining your property so no overhanging trees are touching your roof, no wood is piled up against the home, and dead shrubs, bushes, and trees are removed. For more preparedness tips, take a look at our complete wildfire guide.
Floods are no strangers to Wyoming- in fact, every county throughout the state has experienced flooding and consequent damage. Floods can occur anytime but are most common during the summer and fall seasons. They can be attributed to thunderstorms, heavy periods of rainfall, thawing snow, monsoons, the condition of the soil or river, and even dam failures. Flash flooding is also a common occurrence, with the most vulnerable regions being the areas surrounding the canyons, rivers, and steep hills or mountains. Flash floods and debris flows go hand in hand, so always be prepared for the combination of those two disasters.
On August 1, 1985, Wyoming experienced one of the most devastating floods in its history. A severe rainfall caused the rapid flooding of Cheyenne in as little as 3 hours. The results included 70 injuries, 12 fatalities, and over $61 million in damage.
Floods can take people by surprise. A region that is formerly dry can become flooded if a rainstorm with heavy precipitation passes through. When the soil becomes saturated, the water can take the path of least resistance and accumulate momentum along the way. These events can turn into flash flooding, which has the potential to cause extensive damage and injury in just minutes. It’s important to be aware of flood watches and take them seriously. I have received countless “flash flood warnings” and ignored them because of my lack of interest telling me that it was impossible for my city to experience flooding… yet I experienced a flood not too long ago that woke me up out of my denial. Don’t be like me. Stay on alert and always be prepared to get to higher ground if authorities say there’s a risk of flooding in your area. For more flood information and safety tips, please visit our complete guide on flood preparedness.
3. Severe Storms
Wyoming averages 99 days of precipitation every year— this mainly accounts for rainfall. Severe storms are known for impacting transportation, causing hazardous driving conditions, as well as damage to property. These storms can include high winds, fog, hail storms, periods of heavy rainfall, and lightning strikes. You can expect these storms to mostly occur during July and August.
One of the greatest risks associated with storms is lightning strikes. Wyoming averages approximately 290,000 cloud-to-ground strikes each year. That’s insane!! It’s perhaps not much of a surprise then that all of those strikes are responsible for an average of almost 6 fatalities and countless fires annually.
Lightning is extremely powerful and a single bolt can travel several miles. That’s why it’s not wise to sit on your porch to observe lightning, no matter how far away you think it is in the distance. As soon as a storm approaches, be sure to get inside a safe shelter (such as a building with walls) and wait for the storm to pass. It’s recommended to wait at least 30 minutes of no lightning or thunder before returning to outdoor activities. If you would like more tips on lightning safety, be sure to check out our guide on storms!
There are several things that make landslides a high possibility in Wyoming. First, it’s the hilly and mountainous region. Without slopes, there would be no landslips. Second and third are the high risk of wildfires and periods of heavy precipitation. When forest fires pass through a region, they tend to turn the majority of the landscape into ash— with the exception of the remaining tree corpses. This soil that is now combined with ash makes the absorption of water difficult and therefore it’s more susceptible to rapid saturation. When the ground can’t absorb water anymore, it gives way to overflowing makeshift rivers. With a little momentum, a mudslide is inevitable.
There are other causes of landslides, such as erosion, but the idea is generally the same. A lot of pressure on the top soil cannot be sustained by the soft base layer of soil. This causes a release of pressure which will travel with great momentum until it loses strength. In the process, it can bury anything along its path and cause major loss of property and life. Luckily for Wyoming, the majority of landslides (which are well over 30,000!) typically occur in remote areas, so the threat is relatively low.
There may be warning signs and alerts when the risk is high in your area. Find a safe place to wait until the threat passes. If you hear an intensifying rumbling sound or the sound of trees snapping, or rocks knocking against each other, this could be a landslide approaching! Get to higher ground immediately. You can find a lot more information on landslides here.
Wyoming experiences moderate to severe periods of drought on occasion—it's considered to be the fifth driest state in the nation. One of the main problems that droughts pose on the state is the increased risk of wildfires. After a long period of drought, a single lightning strike can be enough to incinerate acres of land. Due to the shortage of water, putting out these fires also becomes a great challenge.
Droughts also greatly impact farmers because due to the shortages, they don’t have enough water to give to their farm animals and water their crops at the same time.
6. Winter Storms
The winter season is generally unpredictable in Wyoming. Sometimes snowfall begins as early as October while other times the season doesn’t begin until December. In any case, you can expect consistently cold temperatures from December through April, as well as heavy snowfall in the mountain areas. Yellowstone National Park gets the most snow in all of Wyoming, averaging over 200 inches of white fluff each year.
Wyoming is known for experiencing harsh winter conditions, including occasional blizzards and ice storms that wreak havoc on the roads and pose a great danger to the people and farm animals. A few blizzards that made Wyoming history include the Blizzard of 1949, the April storm of 1955, and the Spring blizzard of 1984. In each of these scenarios, several feet of snow fell within a short time and high wind speeds were recorded.
It goes without saying that it’s necessary to be prepared to survive a snowstorm during the winter months. If you must travel, do so with extreme caution and have a winter car kit ready in case you become stranded. Wyoming has some very remote places, so if you’re driving along the countryside, your chances of getting help greatly diminish. If you’re able to put your plans on hold while the storm passes, that would be a much wiser choice. Make sure to prepare your home and car with all the essentials for the winter season. Read more tips on becoming winter-ready here!
Historic earthquakes have occurred in every county throughout Wyoming, however, the most vulnerable region is the northwest. These earthquakes are caused in part by the activity happening under the Yellowstone caldera as well as the Teton fault that is found in the northwestern section of the state. The state experiences anywhere between 700 and 3,000 earthquakes each year! Although the majority go unnoticed, the possibility of a magnitude 6 or higher earthquake happening is surely possible.
The worst earthquake in Wyoming history occurred at Yellowstone National Park on August 18, 1959. Initially, a 7.5 earthquake rocked Montana, and what scientists believe was a magnitude 6.5 aftershock occurred shortly after in Wyoming.
If you live in a high seismic area, always be prepared with the essential items in case your home becomes damaged and you need to evacuate. When an earthquake occurs, make sure to get close to the ground, and under a sturdy object to prevent getting hit by flying debris. Protect your head, neck, and vital organs. For more information on earthquake safety, you can see our guide here.
Although not as common as other natural disasters, Wyoming reports an average of 19 tornadoes per year. In 2008, three tornadoes were recorded that reached a scale of EF-3, which is the strongest that the state has experienced since 1987.
Luckily these tornadoes occurred in semi-remote areas and did not have much damaging effect on structures and people’s property.
Because the 2008 tornadoes were such rare occurrences, some people pulled over off the side of the road and others stood near their home entrances to witness the developing tornado in action. As fascinating as this would be, it’s highly recommended that you would refrain from staying outdoors and take shelter in an interior room of your home immediately. Just for reference, the estimated wind speeds of an EF-3 tornado range between 158 and 206 mph, so imagine the danger of putting yourself in the path of flying debris and dust at these speeds. I think we can agree that your life is more important. 😉
The Yellowstone Caldera is the only active volcano in Wyoming. Despite the rumors and speculations, the USGS has affirmed that the chances of it erupting in our lifetime are literally one-in-a-million. Yellowstone is highly monitored by volcano and earthquake specialists, so I believe if major movements were detected, the public would hear about them pretty quickly. Still, nothing is certain. If the Yellowstone super-volcano erupts again, it would have the potential to cause tremendous destruction for thousands of miles in each direction. But for now, I would trust the scientist’s observations and put my preparedness energy into other disasters, but you do what you think is best and necessary for you. If you're interested in learning more about preparing for a volcano, you can find more information here.
10. Power Outages
Power outages can occur in any place and for many different reasons. A winter storm might cause a power failure, or a landslide or wildfire might destroy a power line. Not too many people are affected by outages in Wyoming because the population numbers are low compared to other states. Also, power outages in Wyoming seem to be resolved daily quickly. But don’t get too comfortable. If you have power at all, you’re vulnerable to an outage. Make sure to have food, water, and sanitation kits ready for yourself and your farm animals (if applicable) in case a major storm causes a long-term outage. A few hours are usually not too difficult to handle, but a few days or weeks, especially during inclement weather, can really complicate things! Learn how to become prepared for an outage here.
Natural disaster resources for Wyoming
Now that you know what is possible in Wyoming, in terms of mother nature pushing our limits, it’s important to know what your next step would be to become prepared for any of them to occur in your community. These are some suggestions:
- Stay updated with the weather alerts and warnings by getting the NOAA Weather App. Make sure your phone’s settings allow notifications during the entire day.
- All disasters require some type of preparation, but I know how overwhelming that can be, especially at first. Since every type of disaster is different, the way we prepare for them is not always the same. I made guides to help you prepare for each type of major disaster so that the process can become easier for you. Find those guides here.
- Another way to prepare is to put your knowledge into action. One of the best ways to do this, in my opinion, is by joining a group of like-minded individuals who want to do the same. Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a great place where you can learn skills and meet others in your community. What you learn may help a neighbor or family member, and the classes are free of charge, so all you have to invest is your time. Find your local CERT group here.
- If you have an organization or services that would come in handy during a disaster, Wyoming’s VOAD is who you want to reach out to. VOAD is the Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster. It’s a team of volunteers who determine the needs of the community post-disaster, and based on their roster, allocate supplies and services accordingly.
- Wyoming’s Office of Homeland Security provides training materials and state-funded resources to help you in each phase of disaster preparedness.
I hope this article has brought you insight into which hazards the Equality State is vulnerable to, but more importantly how you can become prepared for them. Take advantage of the resources you have prior to an emergency and become equipped with supplies and knowledge to help you overcome any future crisis.
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