Published Tuesday

December 19, 2000 

Big Chill Doesn't Mean Long Winter

click to enlarge
Sledders take advantage of the new 
snowfall at Lavista Junior High School Monday. 

Another storm is breathing down our necks - and winter doesn't officially begin until 7:37 a.m. Thursday. 

Does this mean Old Man Winter is trying to make up for lost time? 

Not necessarily, weather experts say. But it could mean their predictions for a near-normal winter could be right on track. Last year's mild winter soon will be a distant memory. 

"I don't like being right when it ends up looking like this," said Al Dutcher, Nebraska's state climatologist. "But I guess we were spoiled last winter, and this just seems worse compared to that." 

Last winter was the nation's warmest on record. It was Iowa's 13th-warmest and ranked in Nebraska's top 10. There were only 13 inches of snow recorded during the entire season, and the average temperature in December 1999 was 6.8 degrees above normal. 

Don't expect to see that this December. Three major snowstorms have already blasted the Omaha area with heavy snow, high winds and bitter cold. The low temperature on Dec. 12 was 11 degrees below zero, and high temperatures have only been above freezing seven times - the last time on Dec. 9. 

The storm expected to hit the Omaha area Wednesday appears to be the last in a series, said Steve Byrd, forecaster for the National Weather Service Office in Valley. But the below-normal temperatures probably will stick around through the end of the month and possibly into the middle of January, he said. 

The snow cover will play a big role in keeping the temperatures down, Byrd said. With nearly a foot and a half of snow on the ground, most of the sun's energy will be reflected and lost into the atmosphere, instead of being used to heat the air. 

Byrd said there is a chance that mid-January could bring some higher than normal temperatures - maybe into the mid-40s - and a temporary thaw. 

"It probably won't be balmy like last winter, but it will be a nice change and give some of this snow a chance to melt," Byrd said. 

But even if the Omaha area gets its normal snowfall for the rest of the winter, the city should still end up with above-average snowfall, Dutcher said. Omaha averages 28.5 inches of snow a year. 

"At this rate, we might have a White Easter," he joked.