We'll be bringing you live weather and road conditions updates throughout the day. Check back at Omaha.com for the latest news.
* * *
View: Photo Slideshow: Winter Storm
* * *
* * *
* * *
VIDEO: Click here for the latest
* * *
OPPD officials said that by 3:30 p.m. service had been restored to more than 6,000 customers. About 4,300 customers were still without power.
* * *
Sledders of all ages made use of the heavy snow and slick hills Saturday afternoon once the core of the storm was on it's way out of Omaha.
Michael Chandler is a fan of sledding, even if the blowing snow makes him want to stop walking back up the hill, and even if he sometimes uses his green saucer sled as a shield.
“It's awesome,” Michael, 7, said Saturday afternoon once he had trekked back up the hill west of Lewis and Clark Middle School, near 70th and Cass Streets.
Michael, his mom, Sarah, and her husband, John, coped with the flying flakes to give Michael his first sledding experience.
Sarah stood at the top of the hill and nudged Michael down. John waited at the bottom for Michael, who was covered in warm clothing, from his brown and blue stocking hat to his Carhartt boots.
“It's quite a bit of snow but the streets are nice. They cleaned them up pretty quick,” said Sarah, 28.
After sledding, it was more winter wonderland activity for the Chandlers: hot chocolate and movies.
Jesse Sward was also trying out something on the same sledding hill: his new sled. His grandfather had given it to him for Christmas.
“It's really light,” said Jesse, 12. “It just glides down the hill, and it's easy to bring back up the hill.”
His mother, Karen Sward, took a turn as well. “It's pretty fast,” she said of the new sled.
They both also reported that the heavy, packed-down snow had made for slick – and ideal – conditions on the hill.
Craig Nyberg waited until much of the snow had fallen Saturday to shovel his walk and driveway near 48th and Charles Streets.
The snow stuck together on the ground, helping it easily slip off the pavement, into his shovel and onto his lawn.
“Obviously, we're overdue. The winter thus far has been fairly spectacular,” said Nyberg, 48, who was outside about 1:15 p.m. Saturday. “The fact that it came on a weekend is priceless, too.”
A few inches fell on his front sidewalk, and trees mostly blocked the high winds felt elsewhere.
“If it's got to come,” Nyberg said, “this isn't bad.” --Jonathon Braden
* * *
As the daylight faded on Saturday, the rattle of spray paint cans filled the air at Bayliss Park.
Friends Ron Hulme and Tonja Fix put the final touches on a Rastafarian snowman, which showed off the three colors of the Jamaican flag: a red head – tree branches jutted out wildly as dreadlocks – yellow torso and green bottom.
“I thought, everything else happens at Bayliss Park, why not a Rasta snowman?” Fix said.
Hulme noted that the two are both fans of Bob Marley.
“We thought we'd bring a little Jamaica to the park,” Fix said.
The mild temps Saturday left the snow wet and heavy, perfect for sledding, snowball fights, snowmen and snowwomen.
“I haven't made one since the last time with my kids,” Hulme said. “And my youngest is 21 years old now.”
The forecast today calls for temperatures in the mid-30s. Mayes said the area wouldn't see a dip in temps until Tuesday, meaning the snow “should be melting steadily over the next couple of days.”
Fix and Hulme had no worries, though, as they finished their work in the park. The snowman flashed a wide smile, while his nose, of course, was a carrot.
They just wanted to have a little fun, both said. A few passersby honked or hollered in approval.
“We did good,” Fix said as she placed her arm behind Hulme's back and the pair admired the colorful snowman. “We hope this makes someone smile.”
-- Mike Brownlee of the World-Herald News Service
* * *
At about 2:30 p.m., the Iowa Department of Transportation announced that road conditions in west central Iowa have improved since noon Saturday. Interstate 80 from Iowa 148 near Adair to Iowa 83 near Walnut, Interstate 680 and a segment of Interstate 29 south of Council Bluffs were updated to partially or mostly covered. --Sam Womack
* * *
There are more than 15,000 customers without power due to storm-related damages, according to Nebraska and western Iowa utility companies.
Omaha Public Power District said 10,500 customers are in the dark, down from the day's high of 11,000 outages, officials said.
The Lincoln Electric System estimated 4,000 customers were without power. The Nebraska Public Power District has around 1,000 reported outages, while the Norris Public Power District has about 700 customers with no electricity.
In Iowa, Mis-American Energy said about 400 customers didn't have power, with the largest affected area in Mills County.
Weather conditions continue to be difficult and the companies say restoration is being completed as quickly and safely as possible. --Sam Womack
* * *
How heavy is that snow?
One Omaha man found out while trying to clear his driveway Saturday morning. The wet, heavy snow bent his metal shovel, rendering it useless.
* * *
NOON WEATHER UPDATE: Snowfall in the Omaha metro area should begin to ease by early afternoon, toward the 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. time-frame, according to the National Weather Service.
Barbara Mayes, meteorologist with the National Weather Service office that serves the metro area, said downtown Omaha had received about 9 inches or more by noon. She said the storm could still add an inch or more before it moves out entirely.
"We'll be seeing the last of the storm in the next hour or two, after that, we'll see the snow taper down to flurries, and even the flurries should taper off this evening," she said at about noon.
"It has been a very wet heavy snow, much wetter than we usually see in this part of the country," Mayes said. At its most intense, Mayes estimated snow was falling at about an inch or two an hour, "that's a pretty rapid rate, which allows snow to accumulate on warmer surfaces like our ground was."
Early this afternoon, winds were blowing at about 20 mph and gusting to nearly 30 mph. If the snow wasn't as wet and heavy as it was, that level of wind speed would have created worse visibility conditions, she said.
The winds and the wet snow were causing some limbs to break, which was leading to power outages.
Mayes said the snow should melt well, given relatively mild temperatures ahead. However, since there is so much snow, it's hard to say how it quickly it will melt. – Nancy Gaarder
The Iowa Department of Transportation warned drivers to Interstate 80 from Iowa 148 near Adair to Iowa 83 near Walnut. At this time, officials also discourage travel on Interstate 680 and on a segment of Interstate 29 south of Council Bluffs. – Sam Womack
* * *
Some north-facing traffic lights are covered with blown snow. The red and yellow lights are barely visible at the traffic light at 14th and Douglas Streets.
A cautionary tale:
With heavy snow piling up everywhere, people should probably watch their aim.
Saturday morning a Florence-area man was clearing his driveway. He swung his shovel too high on one scoop and the shovel hit a branch, dumping a pile of snow onto the unsuspecting shoveler.
* * *
For the City of Omaha, this is as big as a response to a snowstorm gets.
“We've got all of our resources thrown at this,” Scott McIntyre, city street maintenance engineer, said Saturday morning.
The city has 90 of its trucks plowing the main roads, such as 72nd Street, Dodge Road and L Street.
The city also has 85 contractor trucks plowing secondary routes, such as portions of Leavenworth and Grover Streets, roads that carry more traffic than a residential block but less than an urban highway, McIntyre said.
All city plow drivers are working 12-hour shifts as well, he said, and that probably won't stop until at least Monday morning.
He expected plows to start on residential streets sometime Saturday afternoon. For now, though, they were trying to get the main roads clear.
“We'll go out and plow a street, a half hour, hour later, there's accumulation on what we plowed,” McIntyre said. “It's just been such a heavy accumulating snow.”
The roads were fairly slick Saturday morning, aided by the rain that dropped before this morning's snowfall.
“Right now,” he said, “we're kind of in the maintenance mode.” – Jonathon Braden
* * *
The Iowa Department of Transportation recommended that drivers stay off of Interstate 80 in western Iowa. Several jack-knifed semitrailer trucks were reported Saturday morning on I-80 and I-29, and several vehicles have slid off the road. – AP
In Nebraska, along I-80 between Lincoln and Omaha, several vehicles had slid off the road. Omaha dispatch officials reported no injury accidents, but a slew of property-damage accidents. Nebraska State Patrol dispatchers in Lincoln said they've heard of no accidents. – Jonathon Braden
The Lincoln Electrical System estimates 4,000 customers were without power as of 11:50 a.m. Crews were working to restore power.
Officials with the Norris Public Power District said the number of customers without power has grown from the earlier estimate of 600.
Andrea Schafer, a spokeswoman for NPPD, said the outages are being caused by the heavy, wet snow. The snowfall caused the lines to be weighed down and in some cases poles have broken due to the strain. – Sam Womack
* * *
Omaha Airport Authority officials said Saturday morning that all airlines planned to operate their regular inbound and outbound flight schedule. There have been some delays due to de-icing of aircraft.
OPPD officials said 10,000 customers scattered across southeast Nebraska were without power as of 11 a.m. The high winds, coupled with the heavy snow, are contributing to the increased number of outages, OPPD officials said.
Additional field and dispatching crews were called in to help with restoration, but weather conditions causing the outages were also are making it difficult for OPPD crews to get around. – Sam Womack
* * *
About 10 a.m. in Dundee, World-Herald photographer Jeff Beierman said even though streets had been plowed, vehicles were having a difficult time getting traction with the wet snow and slush.
People pushing vehicles up hills was a common sight, he said.
* * *
The city of Council Bluffs warned residents that a parking ban will begin at midnight Sunday for snow removal. Parking will be allowed only on the odd numbered address side of the street. Parking is not allowed in cul-de-sacs until the snow has been removed. Vehicles that do not follow the parking ban may be ticketed or towed.
Lincoln officials issued a snow emergency at 6 a.m. Parking is banned on emergency snow routes, major streets and bus routes. There are no residential bans in place. – Sam Womack
* * *
Around 9:30 a.m., Cass County authorities closed a portion of Highway 75 south of Plattsmouth, near Mynard, due to downed power lines on the road. A detour was available to drivers.
OPPD reported 2,400 customers are without power due to scattered power outages across southeast Nebraska.
Norris Public Power District officials said an estimated 600 customers are without power Saturday morning because of the storm. The hardest hit areas are in Saline and Lancaster counties. Officials said crews are working to restore power but driving conditions are treacherous and visibility is poor.
The National Weather Service reported visibility at one-quarter of a mile just before 9 a.m. Saturday. The visibility in the Omaha metro area has been steadily declining since midnight.
The Nebraska Department of Roads warned many southeastern roads are covered in snow and ice. – Sam Womack
* * *
At about 8:30 a.m., the core of the storm was over the Omaha metro area and western Iowa, while snowfall in western Nebraska was tapering off.
It should continue to snow heavily through at least the early afternoon.
Hastings, Neb., reported 10 inches of snowfall since 6:30 p.m. Friday night, according to the National Weather Service.
North Platte received slightly more than 2 inches since midnight and should see flurries throughout the day.
Operations at Eppley Airfield have continued through the storm. Omaha Airport Authority officials said snow brooms, plows and blowers have been utilized and several flights have already departed this morning.
Omaha Public Power District officials said the number of customers without power has doubled to 1,600. The outages could grow as wind speeds increase, OPPD officials said. – Sam Womack
* * *
DENVER – The most powerful storm of the winter season pounded Colorado with up to 6 feet of snow in the Rocky Mountain foothills and forced the cancellation of more than 600 flights in Denver before heading east toward the central plains.
Blizzard conditions hit the eastern Colorado plains, with 5-foot drifts in parts of Elbert County. Snow was still falling Friday night, with another 2 to 4 inches expected in Denver and northeastern Colorado.
Snow was expected to taper off Saturday as the storm moved east.
Near-zero visibility forced officials to close all 160 miles of westbound Interstate 70 between the Kansas state line and Denver. A 70-mile stretch of eastbound I-70 from Denver to the plains town of Limon also was closed. Highway officials said the freeway would likely remain closed overnight Friday. – AP
* * *
At about 7:30 a.m. meteorologists said the Omaha metro area was on track to see about 8-10 inches of snow.
The heavy, wet snow should continue falling through late afternoon, said Van DeWald, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Valley, Neb. The snowfall should lighten up to a few flurries around 6 p.m., he said.
Douglas and Pottawattamie county dispatchers said that there had not been reports of serious accidents this morning, but many property damage accidents have been reported.
There was a large cluster of accidents on West Dodge Road between 120th and 204th Streets, dispatchers said. There were also wrecks littering the highways.
Omaha, Council Bluffs and Douglas County authorities have stopped responding to property damage accidents. They will only respond to crashes involving injuries or where vehicles are blocking traffic.
Towing has been halted for any vehicles on Interstate 29 and Interstate 680 in Iowa.
DeWald said there have been reports of 2 to 5 inches of snowfall in the Omaha metro area overnight. Another 3 to 5 inches could fall through Saturday.
He said David City, Neb., northwest of Lincoln, reported 8 inches overnight.
Most of central and eastern Nebraska and western central Iowa remain under a winter storm warning to midnight tonight.
Traveling isn't recommended, DeWald said.
“It's a good day to stay indoors, watch a movie, have some hot cocoa and enjoy the snow at home,” he said.
Less than 1,000 Omaha Public Power District customers have no power due to the storm. OPPD said extra help has been called from Ashland northeast to Omaha. – Sam Womack
* * *
At 3 a.m., snow was falling in Omaha at a light-to-moderate rate, though the temperature hovered near 33 degrees and some flakes were melting as they hit the ground.
About an inch had fallen in western Douglas County, said Becky Kern, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Valley.
And the forecast, which calls for at least 6 inches to accumulate in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, was "still on track," Kern said.
Emergency dispatchers across the region reported there had been no vehicle crashes that had caused significant injuries.
-- Emerson Clarridge
* * *
WINTER TAKES CENTER STAGE
By Nancy Gaarder
World-Herald Staff Writer
The nation's worst storm this winter east of the Rockies is targeting Nebraska with a fury.
It could, in one swoop, double the snow to fall this season on the Midlands, according to AccuWeather, The World-Herald's weather consultant.
Blizzard conditions and 12 to 20 inches of snow were expected in western parts of the state.
Even as the storm weakens Saturday, it still could drop 6 inches or more on eastern Nebraska and western Iowa.
The Colorado foothills had seen about 4 feet of snow by Friday evening, and 17 inches had fallen by 7 p.m. near Tryon, Neb., north of North Platte.
“It's definitely going to be the storm of the winter so far,” said Eric Leister, a meteorologist with AccuWeather told The World-Herald. “It's actually going to track due east, pretty much right on top of you guys.”
The National Weather Service advises against Saturday travel in Nebraska and, to a lesser extent, in western Iowa.
Thanks to the incredible snows Friday in Colorado, air travel also faces significant hurdles.
The storm forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights to and from Denver. That, along with the storm's approach, led to cancellations across the region, including some Friday and Saturday flights at Eppley Airfield.
Saturday's expected snowfall stands in stark contrast to what the area had seen for this winter before the storm.
Little snow had fallen and not much stayed around. Most of Nebraska is considered in a near-drought state. So while the storm poses a genuine danger to travelers, its moisture is a blessing for farmers and gardeners.
Omaha has gone nearly a record number of days without snow on the ground this season, said Natalie Umphlett of the High Plains Regional Climate Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
From Dec. 1 through Feb. 2, the city went 55 days without snow cover, she said. That is the seventh-longest string of days of bare ground on record for those winter months, based on records dating to 1948.
Two winters ago, the opposite happened. In 2009-10 — the year Christmas was snowed in — the city went a record 88 days with snow on the ground. Omaha was covered with some snow from Dec. 7 to March 4.
Oddly enough, the same climatic phenomenon, the Arctic Oscillation, was the dominant factor for both winters. Two years ago it pushed snow and cold south into the heart of North America, while this season it has held winter in northern Canada and the Arctic.
The good news about this storm is that forecasters expect it to leave almost as quickly as it arrived. The snow and wind should stop by Saturday night.
So settle in with family, friends, a book or a movie, a newspaper and a warm blanket.
Roads officials stress that staying home allows road crews to clear streets and highways more efficiently.
Scott McIntyre, who oversees Omaha's plowing efforts, said cars left on the street add to the amount of snow left behind when plows clear a neighborhood.
“We can do a much better job if people pull cars into driveways,” he said.
If you must drive, check road conditions first online or by phone, said Mary Jo Oie, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Roads.
Omaha expects crews to make substantial progress clearing streets Saturday afternoon into midday Sunday.
If all goes as forecast, the City of Omaha could be done clearing roads by noon Monday.
World-Herald staff writers Jay Withrow, Bob Glissmann, Rick Ruggles and Christopher Burbach contributed to this report.
* * *
WEATHERING THE WEATHER
Heavy, wet snow, and lots of it, is the perfect recipe for muscle strains and even heart attacks.
If you have a heart problem, check with your doctor before shoveling.
The best advice for Saturday is to shovel early and often. Fresh snow is lighter than snow that has been packed or melted. Frequent rounds of shoveling will lessen the weight you have to move. More advice from medical experts:
» Drink plenty of water about 20 minutes before shoveling.
» Warm up first by stretching and walking.
» Dress in layers.
» Push the snow aside rather than lifting it. If you must lift, bend your knees, not your back.
» Go with a smaller shovel so the load will be lighter.
Get to church on time
Main roads in the Omaha area should be relatively clear of snow in time for worship services on Sunday and ready for the work week by Monday, public works officials say.
Some churches that rent public school space for services have had to change locations because school buildings have closed for the weekend.
Stacking up at Eppley
Airlines began canceling flights Friday. Hardest hit was Denver International Airport, which nixed nearly 600 flights through Friday night, more than a third of its daily load.
On Saturday, Appley Airfield operations were normal and flights were departing with only minor delays for plane de-icing. On Friday, Southwest Airlines canceled three inbound flights Friday evening and all five flights departing from Omaha Saturday morning. Destinations would have been Chicago, Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas. United Airlines canceled three Denver-to-Omaha flights Friday night and its first Denver flight for Saturday.
The postman falls just once
The U.S. Postal Service is asking that all customers clear ice and snow from their sidewalks so postal carriers can safely reach mailboxes.
Keith Reid, Omaha postmaster, said mail service could be delayed or prevented by hazardous conditions, but that every effort will be made to safely get the mail delivered. --Nancy Gaarder
* * *
The City of Papillion has declared a snow emergency, effective through 8 a.m Sunday.
During the emergency, Papillion residents are asked to not park on the street. Residents also are asked to avoid travel during the snow emergency. Those who must travel are asked to use caution around snow removal equipment and personnel.
According to city ordinance, sidewalks must be cleared within five hours after a snowfall or by 8:30 a.m. the next day if the snowfall happens overnight. Residents with a fire hydrant near their property are asked to ensure that it's cleared and visible.
Residents with questions about the snow emergency can log on to the city's website – www.papillion.org – for more information, or call the Mayor's Hotline (402) 827-1111.
City residents with questions about snow removal can call the Public Works Department at (402) 597-2043.
* * *
La Vista residents were asked Friday night to move their vehicles from residential streets to allow plow operators to fully clear all streets in the early-morning hours. A formal snow emergency wasn't declared but city officials left open that possibility, depending on developments.
* * *
This map shows Nebraska and northeast Colorado are catching the brunt of the storm sweeping down from the Rockies.
The areas of the map coded in pink, including most of Nebraska, is under a winter storm warning.
The red areas are under a blizzard warning.
The blue areas are under a winter storm watch.
The storm is expected to lose its punch Saturday as it moves into Iowa.
-- Nancy Gaarder
See a map of the latest conditions here
Travelers should be able to make it at least as far as Kearney Friday on Interstate 80 before they risk running into problems, said Mike Moritz, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hastings.
Friday morning, even rain was not much of a problem in south-central Nebraska, he said.
For most of the day Friday, the line between snow and rain would likely occur somewhere near Cozad, Moritz said.
From about Cozad, westward, drivers are likely to see accumulating snow and eventually blizzard conditions.
"Conditions will deteriorate quickly past the Kearney-Lexington-Cozad area," he said.
Friday night, blizzard conditions were forecast to develop in central Nebraska and along much of Interstate 80 in the heart of the state.
On Saturday, travel problems on the Interstate will stretch well into the Omaha area and on into western Iowa, Moritz said.
By Saturday night, winds should subside enough in central Nebraska that plow crews finally will be able to make progress in clearing roads. Until then, conditions are likely to impede road work.
* * *
Canceled flights so far:
Check with your respective airline for specific information and additional updates. Southwest Airlines has canceled three inbound flights to Omaha this evening:
Flight 2308 from Chicago Midway (Due at 8:20 p.m.)
Flight 2261 from Denver (Due at 9:55 p.m.)
Flight 664 from Las Vegas (Due at 12:20 a.m.)
And Southwest has cancelled all five of its Saturday morning flights out of Omaha:
First two flights to Chicago Midway at 6:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
First Denver flight at 7:45 a.m.
First Phoenix flight at 9:25 a.m.
First Las Vegas flight at 9 a.m.
United Airlines has cancelled its three Denver to OMA flights for Friday night:
Flight 3769 (due at 7:03 p.m.)
Flight 825 (Due at 10:35 p.m.)
Flight 3534 (Due in at 12:06 a.m.)
And United has cancelled its first flight to Denver tomorrow at 8:44 a.m.
Check with your respective airline for specific information and additional updates.
Southwest Airlines has canceled three inbound flights to Omaha this evening: