Strong Winds Forecast to Whip Up Snowfall
BY TARA DEERING
Eastern Nebraska woke up today to a one-two punch of snow and strong winds as part of a large storm that was on course to wreak havoc from Minnesota to Texas. Most area schools are closed and the roads are slick and snow-covered.
"This is one of the most impressive
storms we've seen in a while," said Cliff Cole, a forecaster with the National
Weather Service office in North Platte, Neb. "This is winter with a capital
Freezing rain and sleet turned to snow across eastern Nebraska Thursday night.
The southeastern part of the state was expected to get hit with the heaviest snow, possibly picking up between 4 and 8 inches. The snowfall probably will cease by 3 p.m. today, said Cathy Zapotocny, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Valley.
Winds are expected to pose
the worst problems through the morning and afternoon, reaching speeds of
20 mph to 30 mph, Zapotocny said. With visibility possibly being limited
to less than a mile in some areas, eastern Nebraska is expected to experience
Temperatures started to dip Thursday, and the trend was expected to continue. The high in Lincoln on Thursday was 29 degrees, but by 8p.m. the temperature had dropped to 19.
In anticipation of the storm, road crews across the region - including Omaha, Lincoln and Council Bluffs - coated streets with sand and salt.
The sleet that fell Thursday
caused only a few highway accidents, said Lt. Tom Schwarten of the Nebraska
"People either left early from work or slowed their speeds," he said. "As it stands right now have been very lucky. But the forecast isn't that promising, so that could change."
Mary Hanke, assistant manager at the Flying J Travel Plaza near Gretna, said Thursday afternoon that she expected semitrailer trucks to overflow the parking lot overnight as the storm barreled down on the region.
Hanke said the parking lot
holds 150 semis. But on days like Thursday when severe weather hits, truck
drivers create 50 to 60 additional parking spots, and semis spill onto
the shoulder of Nebraska Highway 31.
"If it's going to be a bad night, a lot of them shut down early in anticipation of (truck stops) filling," Hanke said.
Charles Camp did just that. Camp, who drives for a transport company out of Indiana, was headed west on Interstate 80 when he came across the first hint of bad weather about noon in Des Moines, where it was drizzling.
"But it wasn't until I got down the road (just past Omaha) that it really got nasty," Camp said.
The slick roads caused by the drizzle led Camp to seek shelter and ride out the storm at the Flying J.
Camp, who has driven over the road for 51 years, said he has seen too many accidents to take a chance driving in icy conditions.
"Eighteen-wheelers ain't something to play with," he said.
Hardware and grocery stores all seemed to agree that products used to melt ice were hot items Thursday.
"We've sold more ice melt today
than in the last three years combined," said Steve Schrader, owner of Dundee
Todd Bradwisch, assistant manager at the Menards in Bellevue, said the store has been getting calls all day from people inquiring about ice melting products. Unfortunately, the store ran out Thursday afternoon and more had to be ordered, Bradwisch said. The store expected to receive the shipment this morning.
At Menards, prices for ice melt vary from $2 to $6, depending on the bag's size, which range from 10 pounds to 50 pounds.
After a day of canceled classes and events across the metro area Thursday, most school districts and colleges held off on making decisions about today's classes.
Cindy Workman, a spokeswoman for Creighton University, said no decision would be made until early today.
Luanne Nelson, spokeswoman for the Omaha School District, said late Thursday that school officials would make a cancellation decision very early this morning.
No new arrangements are being made for Omaha district students to make up Thursday's missed day of school. Elementary students already plan to spend an extra 25 minutes in school until the end of the year.
The extra time, which starts Monday, was added to make up for time lost to heat and snow. It also gives the district a cushion in the event of more snow days.
Middle and high school students still have time remaining in their schedules before they have to start making up missed school days.
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 develop over Arizona and move across the central Plains. The storms thrive on abundant moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and turn it into heavy precipitation, including everything from thunderstorms in Texas to more than a foot of snow in the Dakotas.
These storms are the kind that can break droughts, Dutcher said. But they make life miserable for the people in their path. 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.
World-Herald staff writers Nathan Odgaard and Veronica Rosman contributed to this report.