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In Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon warns of dangers from winter storm

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

One of the worst winter storms in recent memory is now upon much of the United States. More than 10,000 flights are disrupted or canceled; stretches of interstate highways temporarily shut down due to icy or whiteout conditions. And there is record-breaking, life-threatening cold. Take southeastern Wyoming, where yesterday the temperature fell 51 degrees in two hours - 51 degrees, two hours. Today the forecasted low is negative 19 degrees Fahrenheit plus wind chill. That's in the capital Cheyenne, which is where we have reached Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon. Governor, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MARK GORDON: Well, thanks. It's good to be here.

KELLY: I have spent a fair bit of time in Wyoming. Negative nineteen is pretty darn cold, even for a state that's used to cold.

GORDON: Well, and in the middle of this state in Casper, it was ambient temperature, minus 40 degrees. Up where I was over the last couple of days at our ranch - I wanted to get there to check our cattle - it was minus 29 last night. And on the way down this morning, I went through temperatures ranging from minus 29 to, right now, it's about six below zero here in Cheyenne.

KELLY: Are your cattle OK?

GORDON: They are. They are.

KELLY: What do you do to take care of them when it's that cold?

GORDON: Well, you know, they're pretty good at sheltering up. We make sure that they have lots of feed. The cattle have a pretty good fat layer on this time of year, and that's what keeps them warm. And one of the worst things you can do is try to get them moving too much in this cold weather. They spend a lot of energy if they're moving. So you try to find them where they are and work with them.

KELLY: And you mentioned that you made the trip down back to the capital. And I have been looking at traffic video from your state, I-25, for example, at a total standstill as a blizzard came through. And I mean, you could barely even see that there was a road underneath all the white. Tell me how the roads are doing. What are the challenges you're seeing today?

GORDON: Well, today is a beautiful, clear day, just very cold. So the biggest challenge is that many of the semitrucks and some of the pickups have jelled up. Diesel fuel at a very low temperature doesn't flow properly. And so trucks end up stalling out or not being able to move very quickly. So there are a lot of those on the road. I will tell you, our troopers and our highway maintainers, our snowplow drivers, have been up all night long. And they've just been doing a phenomenal job. And so we've got traffic moving again. And we feel pretty good about our circumstances. It's supposed to be pretty warm this weekend.

KELLY: What counts as pretty warm in these circumstances?

GORDON: Well, back to above 10 to 20 degrees. So this has...

KELLY: Balmy.

GORDON: ...Been big - yeah. Absolutely, right? Just in time for Christmas.

KELLY: Yeah. I know that, you know, this is not all funny and fun and games for a lot of people who are trying to figure out how to keep warm, how to keep their pets warm, how to keep their cattle warm, their families. And I also saw reports of at least a couple of fatalities of first responders connected to weather, this was over the last week, but a medic whose ambulance had been hit. What are you hearing from EMTs and others trying to serve in that way?

GORDON: Well, that was just an incredibly tragic set of circumstances. And I think sometimes people don't realize how slick the roads are. The visibility is low. The tremendous fatality that we had was an ambulance that got struck by a semi. And so our hearts and prayers are with the family. The other EMT is in critical condition in a hospital here. So we, you know, are really sad that that happens. I think our EMT population knows that there's a risk, but nobody ever expects to see this. What I will say that is really great about Wyoming is that our homeless shelters, some of them are overcrowded but made more room. And we were able to get people in from the cold. And so far, we haven't heard of any bad problems there.

KELLY: Good. In the few seconds we have left, I wonder, any message for people who will be on the roads trying to get to family, trying to get friends this holiday season?

GORDON: Well, I think the most important thing is to make sure you're prepared. That means, you know, having warm clothes and making sure you have food if you do get stranded. Electric cars sometimes stall out in this kind of weather. So be prepared under all circumstances...

KELLY: Pack a blanket. Pack some clothes. Stay warm. Stay safe. All right. Governor...

GORDON: ...Exactly.

KELLY: ...Thank you so much.

GORDON: Thank you.

KELLY: That is the governor of Wyoming, Mark Gordon, speaking with us from Cheyenne. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carol Klinger
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.