More weather information
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UPDATE: Blizzard possible
Early indications are that today’s snowstorm is gathering enough power to become a blizzard in Omaha, said Cathy Zapotocny, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office that serves the Omaha area.
Zapotocny said the weather service will decide later this morning, once more information is available, whether to shift from a winter storm warning to a blizzard warning. The warning would go into effect at 3 p.m. to remain consistent with the current warning period. Blizzard conditions, however, would not kick in at that point.
Conditions are expected to rapidly deteriorate from mid to late afternoon, she said, so anyone with an opportunity to leave work early and beat the storm home would be well-advised to do so, she said.
Six to 10 inches of snow is forecast for Lincoln and Omaha, with greater amounts expected in Iowa, according to the weather service. Winds are expected to gust above 30 mph, and the snow could last eight to 10 hours. White-out conditions and single-digit wind chills are possible.
The City of Omaha to declare a snow emergency at midnight Tuesday. It will begin enforcing the city’s parking restrictions around noon Thursday.
Travel on Thursday morning also is likely to be tough. It makes sense to plan for a late start to the work day, she said. Later today, forecasters may have a better sense of conditions Thursday morning.
A blizzard warning already is in effect for most of Iowa.
The difference between the two – a winter storm and a blizzard – has to do with how long wind-whipped snow reduces visibility to less than 1/4 of a mile. When a blizzard is forecast, it means that the worst of the storm is expected to last at least three hours. But, with conditions deteriorating quickly during Wednesday rush-hour, an official blizzard wouldn’t be necessary to paralyze traffic and place motorists at the mercy of the weather.
As of 9 a.m., local school districts still planned to complete the school day as normally scheduled. None had announced early closings or Thursday cancellations.
Zapotocny said the 2:30 p.m. to roughly 3:30 p.m. time frame could see a windblown rain-snow mix. Conditions would dramatically deteriorate at about 4 p.m. or so.
Trying to pin down conditions during the mid to late afternoon is tricky, she said, because that’s when the storm will be transitioning.
What is clear, though, is travel will be difficult by 5 p.m. If travel is necessary, people should take extra clothing, a flashlight and a fully charged cellphone with them, safety officials say.
The storm is expected to be out of the Omaha area by noon Thursday.
The last time a large swath of the Midlands, including Omaha, was hit with a blizzardlike storm was 22 months ago, at the start of February 2011, according to weather service records.
The storm is a sharp departure from what the region has experienced. From Canada to Mexico, the central United States is in the grip of drought, and nowhere is it worse than Nebraska, where extraordinary drought has taken hold. The state is experiencing its warmest, driest year on record.
Omaha is among the central U.S. cities that have set records for consecutive days without snow. The city’s streak of snow-free days came to an end Saturday, when 0.6 inches of snow dusted the ground. Lincoln’s streak continued into this morning but will end after 310 days.
For all the disruption this storm will cause, it’s not bringing a lot of moisture with it.
Forecasters anticipate about ½ to ¾ of an inch of moisture could fall across southern and eastern Nebraska.
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IF YOU’RE TRAVELING BY ROAD
Folks getting a jump on that Christmas trip to grandma’s should check road conditions before hopping in the car. Road travel in Nebraska and Iowa will be affected by the storm today and Thursday. High winds are expected, so blowing snow will limit visibility.
The storm also is forecast to affect regional cities such as Denver, Kansas City and Chicago.
Plan ahead and make sure you have motel reservations in case you can complete only part of your trip. Make sure you have an emergency kit that includes blankets and jumper cables.
Another storm is expected to hit the central United States around Christmas, so check forecasts if planning to travel then.
IF YOU’RE TRAVELING BY AIR
Flight delays and cancellations are possible — likely, in fact — if the storm forecasts are on target. Check on your flight before leaving for the airport.
The storm is forecast to hit Chicago, too. Any impact on flights in and out of that city could affect travel at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield, including flights that depend on a plane getting from Chicago to Omaha. So even if you are heading to a warm spot, your flight could be affected.
WHO TO CALL
Nebraska has an automated information system available 24 hours a day by dialing 511 or going online to www.nebraska.gov. Iowa motorists can also call 511 or 800-288-1047. Online information on Iowa roads is available at www.511ia.org.
— Compiled by Michael O’Connor
Omaha-area schools generally decide in the early morning whether school will be canceled due to severe weather.
For example, Omaha Public Schools officials decide by 5:45 a.m. and notify parents, said Kailyn Watson, a district spokeswoman.
Said Diane Ostrowski, spokeswoman for the Council Bluffs School District: “As always it’s wise for parents. . .to plan for babysitting in the event of a school closure.”
Council Bluffs students aren’t facing finals this week because they’re on the trimester system, Ostrowski said.
But most other Omaha-area schools have finals scheduled this week. Depending on the district and school, finals could be administered early, canceled or rescheduled for January.
“Student grades would not be negatively affected because obviously weather is out of their control,” Watson said.
— Roseann Moring
City workers planned to spread de-icing liquid on residential streets Tuesday night in preparation for today’s expected storm.
“That will help if there’s any potential for that snow to come down, melt, freeze and stick,” said Scott McIntyre, street maintenance engineer for the City of Omaha.
After the storm, the city’s 100 or so pieces of equipment will be deployed to clear streets as quickly as possible, he said.
If a snow emergency is declared, the city will move cars parked on residential streets east of 72nd Street to speed up snow plowing.
And even if the city doesn’t declare an emergency, McIntyre asked that people try as much as possible to park in their driveways rather than on the street.
“If people can do that, they would hopefully see a difference in the quality of snow clearing on their street,” he said.
Where to park east of 72nd Street in a snow emergency:
— On even-numbered days, you must park on the even side of the street. That’s the north or west side; it’ll be the side of the street with even-numbered addresses.
— On odd-numbered days, park on the odd side of the street. That’s the south or east side, with odd-numbered addresses.
For more information see this flyer.
– Roseann Moring
Prepping for the snow
The area’s older generation went grocery shopping Tuesday, seeking the staples — bread, meat and milk — as they and others, including area shippers, prepared for the winter’s first snow storm.
“It’s our older clientele, the older generation that tends to stock up on the things they’re going to need for a couple of days. They’ve been snowed in before. The younger people don’t worry about it as much,” said Chad Tahacker, manager of the Hy Vee grocery store at 1745 Madison Ave. in Council Bluffs.
“We’re a little busier today than normal, and we plan on getting busier tonight,” Tahacker said Tuesday afternoon.
Around the area, residents began preparing for Wednesday’s storm. It is expected to carpet the area with a half-foot of snow, causing dangerous driving conditions during today’s evening commute, and creating near white-out conditions due to gusting north winds, according to the National Weather Service.
The demographic at hardware stores and auto stores spanned the generations.
Sales of snow shovels, ice melt and 68-pound sand tubes picked up Tuesday afternoon at Center Ace Hardware at 5502 Center St., said Jeff Cunningham, the store’s manager. “We expect it to pick up even more . . . after people leave work,” Cunningham said.
And young and old consumers converged on local auto parts stores, including O’Reilly Auto Parts at 4545 South 50th Street in Omaha, to buy antifreeze, windshield washer fluid and the biggest seller wiper blades, said the store manager, who forecast that sales would “really pick up once the snow flakes start to fall.”
Susan Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for United Parcel Service, said the storm should not delay the company’s pick-up and delivery service.
“Our folks in and around Nebraska — the whole upper Midwest — are used to winter storms around this time of year,” Rosenberg said. In addition, UPS has its own team of meteorologists who do their own weather modeling and compare it with the National Weather Service, Rosenberg said.
“They are in communication with our national and local transportation groups,” she said. “If it does get hazardous out there, we will be taking their cues from the local airport, state patrol and police.
“It could be a longer day because our drivers our practicing safe driving tactics, and it may be a little sloshier out there, but it shouldn’t impact deliveries.”
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