Published Friday

February 9, 2001

Shoveling Out in Omaha

Dave Blunk has a snowblower, and he's getting pretty sick of using it. 
click to enlarge  
Ragilio Rubio digs his car out on 13th Street.

Friday morning found him going through the usual routine on Virginia Street in Bellevue - clearing his driveway and sidewalks of yet another winter snowfall. 

"I've been at it since six this morning," he said. "I'm sick of the snow." 

Sick as he may be, it didn't stop Blunk from clearing the sidewalks of his neighbors, including one who was away on business. 

"He's lucky," Blunk said, over the mechanical growl of his snowblower. "He's missing all of this." 
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Kristin Kastrup of Omaha scrapes her windshield near 35th and Dodge after freezing rain left it coated with ice.

The latest in a long string of winter blasts dumped up to 10 inches of snow on eastern Nebraska and western Iowa between Thursday night and early Friday. The same storm coated much of the Midlands in an icy glaze Wednesday and Thursday. 

Schools across the Omaha area were closed Friday for the second day in a row. Road crews struggled against strong winds and blowing snow to clear area roadways. Drivers found main routes in fairly good shape, but battled drifting snow and an under-layer of ice on side streets. 

And in some parts of western Iowa and southeast Nebraska, thousands of people were without power, some for more than seven hours. 
Nebraska Road Conditions
(800) 906-9069 in state 

(402) 471-4533 out of state

The storm dumped between 4 and 6 inches across the Omaha area. By 10 a.m., with snow still falling, Eppley Airfield had received 5 inches and the National Weather Service Office in Valley reported that it had 4 inches on the ground. 

Pockets of heavier snowfall were reported in areas to the south of Omaha. Lincoln received 8 inches, Hickman got 9 inches and one report to the weather service said 10 inches of new snow had fallen on Glenwood, Iowa. 

The snow was expected to end by noon Friday, adding another inch or two to the storm's total. But strong winds were forecast to cause blowing and drifting problems through the evening, said Gary Wiese, a weather service forecaster. Although the winds should diminish after sunset, temperatures could drop as low as 10 degrees below zero by Saturday morning. 

Temperatures should warm up into the mid-20s by Saturday afternoon, followed by highs in the mid-30s Sunday. There is another chance of light snow Sunday afternoon. 

Because of the snow and strong winds Friday morning, the Iowa State Patrol was recommending that people avoid travel on southern parts of Interstate 29 through Mills and Fremont Counties. Blowing snow also was reported on Interstate 80 in western Iowa, Interstate 80 from Omaha to Lincoln and various state highways across the region. 

Drifting snow caused problems for snowplow drivers in and around Omaha. Particularly to the west, plows had to go back over roads that had just been cleared Friday. 

Douglas County maintenance engineer Mike DeSelm said Fort Street west of Omaha was particularly troublesome. 

"There's some eight-foot-high drifts out there in places where there's just one lane open," DeSelm said Friday morning. 

Q Street west of Nebraska Highway 31 also posed problems. 

City and county crews worked through the night, at times with poor visibility because of blowing snow. 

"It can get pretty spooky out there on these county highways when it's dark and the wind is blowing," DeSelm said. 

Tom McDonald, city street-maintenance superintendent, said the snow-removal effort had gone smoothly. The city used about 155 pieces of equipment from the Public Works and Parks Departments and from private contractors. 

McDonald said he expected Omaha crews to move into residential areas Friday. 

The suburban communities generally tackled the winter storm with sufficient salt supplies and their own snowplows, passing over all residential streets and most county roads by Friday morning. 

"We've got all the plows out and hitting heavy and hard," said Denny Hilfiker, Bellevue public works director. 

Blowing winds and drifting snow, however, might have made some roads, particularly rural county roads, seem untouched. 

In western Iowa, power was out for as many as 15,000 Mid-American Energy customers because of ice build-up on power lines. Outages were reported in most of Fremont County, parts of Mills County and the city of Red Oak. 

Officials in Red Oak were calling fire departments in the region asking for portable power generators to help with emergency services. 

"We have no electricity here, so basically we are just trying to get some generators for our communications and water levels in case we have a fire," said Kelly Wilcoxon, a Red Oak city employee. 

Mid-American was trying to reroute power to Red Oak, and officials hoped power would be restored by noon. 

The storm also was continuing to wreak havoc Friday morning on southeast Nebraska, where electrical crews battled to stay ahead of power outages and law-enforcement officers worried about reaching rural homes if any medical emergencies developed. 

"Our county crews, they're just sitting tight. It's too dangerous to even try and plow," Gage County Sheriff Jerry DeWitt said at midmorning from his Beatrice office. "Right now, I can hardly see the courthouse (across the street), it's blowing so hard." 

Otoe County Sheriff James Gress said U.S. Highway 75 was down to one lane, while the Nebraska Highway 2 expressway from Nebraska City to Lincoln had one lane open in each direction. 

This week's vigorous storm appears to be part of a new weather pattern that has set up over the Plains states in the past few weeks, said Al Dutcher, Nebraska's state climatologist. The pattern favors powerful, slow-moving storms that thrive on abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and turn it into heavy precipitation. 

In Nebraska and Iowa, the storms often bring a mix of ice and snow because the Midlands end up being the dividing line between the cold and warm air, Dutcher said. 

"These storms are the kind that can break droughts," Dutcher said. "But they make life miserable for the people in their path." 

The Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area's freezing rain and snow were part of a storm system that stretched from Texas to the Great Lakes. 

Power outages also left about 1,100 Wisconsin customers without power for several hours Thursday and knocked eight Kansas City-area radio stations off the air for more than an hour Friday morning. 

The Army closed down operations at Kansas' Fort Riley except for "mission essential" personnel. 

Among the schools that closed were Iowa State University, the University of Kansas and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

Authorities in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska were advising against travel in many areas. Similar advisories in Wisconsin kept accidents to a minimum. 

In Texas, the problem was rain and wind, not snow. One strong gust even derailed 29 cars of a Burlington Northern-Santa Fe train in a remote area between Valley View and Gainesville early Friday. No one was injured. 

World-Herald staff writers Nathan Odgaard, Tara Deering, Chris Clayton, Erin Grace, Rick Ruggles, Barbara Cortese and Todd von Kampen, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.