Published Thursday

February 8, 2001 

Incoming! Another Storm Takes Aim


Omaha braced for the worst and hoped for the best Thursday as a large winter storm threatened the area with heavy snow, ice and strong winds. 

In anticipation of the storm, road crews were coating streets with a mixture of salt and sand, schools were canceled and power companies were warning employees that broken tree limbs and downed power lines could create problems. 

The powerful storm was expected to bring freezing rain by afternoon Thursday, coating the area in a layer of ice before the icy rain switches to snow, said Mike Powers, a forecaster for the National Weather Service Office in Valley, Neb. 

The snow should continue through tonight and into Friday, with 3 to 6 inches possible before it tapers off to flurries by Friday afternoon, Powers said. However, if conditions are right, up to 8 inches of snow could fall, he said. 

The icy, snowy weather likely will worsen when winds pick up tonight. Sustained winds of 20 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph, will cause blowing and drifting snow across Omaha as well as eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, Powers said. 

With the storm already breathing down on the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area's neck, road crews hit the streets Wednesday night to get a head start. They worked through Thursday morning to clear trouble spots while they waited for the really bad weather to hit. 

Utility companies and arborists also were watching the weather. 

Winter storms can be brutal on power lines. Freezing rain, in particular, causes tree limbs to fall on the lines. Even without freezing rain, though, slick pavement means vehicles can easily slide off the road and knock over power poles. 
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With that in mind, utility crews and phone operators were told they might be working overtime tonight. For the most part, however, officials had adopted a midmorning attitude of wait and see. 

"We're always concerned about ice forecasts," said Jeff Hanson, Omaha Public Power District spokesman. "We're keeping a very close eye on it." 

Phone service also could be in danger, officials said. Older parts of Omaha where service still is primarily delivered by aerial wires are particularly vulnerable to ice storms. 

Qwest customers who lose service because of the storm should try to use a cell phone or a friend's phone to call for repairs, said Qwest spokeswoman Karla Ewert. 

"We won't automatically know people are without service," Ewert said. 

Thursday's weather disrupted the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging's meal delivery to homebound elderly persons. 

Office spokesman Jeff Reinhardt said the 800 meal recipients in the Omaha area who did not receive meals Thursday had previously been given nonperishable emergency meals for times such as these. 

Reinhardt also asked that people check on their elderly neighbors who may need help dealing with the severe weather. 

The storm, with its mix of rain, ice and snow, could mean trouble for area trees, said Kathleen Cue, horticulturist with the University of Nebraska Extension Service in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. 

A number of Omaha trees didn't drop their leaves in the fall, which makes them susceptible to collecting ice and snow on their limbs. The extra weight can cause the limbs to break, Cue said. Even those without leaves could be endangered if the storm deposits a heavy covering of ice and snow. 

Residents should monitor the situation, she said, and if possible use a broom to sweep snow off limbs that appear to be drooping. 

Schools across the area canceled classes Thursday, and, as of late morning, had made no decision about Friday. 

Even though Thursday morning was relatively mild, the Omaha School District and others called off classes because of slick side streets and the possibility of worsening conditions. 

Luanne Nelson, a district spokeswoman, said district officials believed it would be dangerous having children leaving school in the afternoon in the kinds of conditions that had been forecast. 

For road crews across the Midlands, the work had begun overnight. 

The Nebraska Department of Roads on Thursday morning treated bridges and the roads under them - places where it usually ices up first, said Dale Butler, district maintenance superintendent for the Omaha area. 

Crews across the area were putting down a salt-gravel mix to stay ahead of the ice. 

Street engineers, who had been watching tight supplies of de-icer and salt, said their stock should be adequate for battling this storm. 

"The salt supply is safe - for now," said Dan Freshman, Ralston's public works director. "We're OK because we loaded up pretty heavy this year. But if this weather comes in and stays, it could be a problem." 

World-Herald staff writers Barbara Cortese, Joseph Morton, Tom Shaw, Patrick Strawbridge and Angie Brunkow contributed to this report.