Lawrence barber and family survive Colorado snowstorm nightmare, trapped in car for 13 hours
photo by: Contributed photo by David Dullea
Lawrence barber Shelby Browning knew there was snow in the forecast Wednesday for a drive through Colorado, but she didn’t know her family was traveling into what meteorologists were calling a “bomb cyclone” blizzard.
Browning, who works at Lawrence’s Downtown Barber Shop, was traveling with her husband, David Dullea, and two children Wednesday when their four-wheel-drive Kia Sorento became buried in snow for 13 hours during a raging storm on the eastern plains of Colorado.
They said they learned a lesson in blizzard survival and the lengths to which strangers will go to help those in need.
Browning and Dullea left their Kansas City, Kan., home Tuesday night hoping to beat the snow. Loaded down with warm ski apparel and plenty of snacks, juice and water, they stopped for the night in Goodland. Wednesday morning, they began traveling onward to Thornton, Colo., to meet Dullea’s sister before heading to Keystone, Colo., for a family reunion.
“We didn’t hear anything about hurricane winds,” Browning said, speaking by cell phone with the Lawrence Journal-World while still traveling Thursday afternoon.
Browning said the family took Colorado Highway 86 because it was the route on their GPS. However, the snow became blinding around 1 p.m. Wednesday, about 15 miles east of the town of Kiowa, southeast of Denver.
“Once we realized how bad it was, it was too late to turn around,” Browning said. “We couldn’t see the hood of our car.”
They immediately called 911 on a cell phone, Browning said, but service was poor, and they had no internet to tell them where they were located. A dispatcher said they would send a tow truck, but Browning said the storm was so bad that the truck went off the road before it could reach them. That’s when the local Kiowa volunteer fire department was dispatched, Browning said.
“They got within a quarter-mile of us and had to turn around because of an 8-foot snow drift,” Browning said.
Throughout the ordeal, the fire department called every 30 minutes to give the family an update and make sure they were OK, Browning said.
“They promised they would get to us,” she said.
But several rescue attempts failed. Dispatchers told the family that a National Guard Humvee could be on its way, but it wouldn’t get to them until morning. Browning said that’s when she almost lost it.
She said she hid her fear from her children, 7-year-old Camden and 20-month-old Avery, and kept them occupied with a lot of word search puzzles. Plus, the kids slept. On regular intervals, Dullea would get out to clear snow from the exhaust pipe and scrape the windows.
photo by: Contributed photo
The wind howled and rocked the car the entire time, Browning said.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
In the end, the family began turning off their car for periods of time to help save fuel and the battery.
It was around 2:30 a.m. Thursday morning, when they were down to a quarter tank of gas and could tell the car battery was about to die, Browning said, when the family finally saw the headlights of an approaching vehicle.
“We were ecstatic,” she said.
The fire department had used social media to ask if anyone in the area could help, and several farmers who lived in the area had responded using a John Deere tractor.
They drove six miles scooping away the snow, one scoop at a time until reaching the vehicle, Browning said. Another farmer with a pickup truck followed.
One of the rescuers was Josh Polk, who farms in the area. He took the family to his house, where his 10-year-old son Landon had prepared a feast, Browning said.
“It was 2:30 a.m., and he cooked macaroni and pigs in a blanket, chicken strips and pretzels and popcorn,” Browning said. “It was a kid’s buffet.”
photo by: Contributed photo
Even after they were safe Thursday morning, a volunteer from the Kiowa fire department called to check on the family and see what could be done to help get their vehicle, Browning said.
“Nothing like this ever happens to me,” Browning said. “People are amazing. It just blows my mind that people are willing to do this for complete strangers.”
While the roads had been cleared Thursday afternoon and the family was back on the road, Browning said they were amazed at the number of abandoned vehicles that had been buried along the side of the road in snow drifts.
And in the end, they weren’t the only relatives late for the reunion, Browning said. Several family members who were flying into Denver for the gathering had flight delays because of the storm.