• Weather info: Forecast, road conditions, parking regulations, local reminders
• What's closed?: Updated list of closings and cancellations
• Photos: Storm bears down on Omaha
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The following public schools will be closed Thursday due to the storm: Omaha Public Schools, Millard, Elkhorn, Ralston, Council Bluffs, Bellevue, Omaha Catholic schools, Westside, Papillion-La Vista, Lewis Central Community School District, Springfield Platteview Community Schools, Plattsmouth Community Schools, Douglas County West Community Schools and Lincoln Public Schools.
Believe it or not, tranquil weather is around the corner. But Omaha-area residents will first face a cold, snow-blown Thursday, with winds gusting to 30 mph or more and gradually subsiding in the afternoon. Children off from school may be better off indoors playing video games, making holiday treats or studying for finals. “There probably will be major blowing and drifting first thing in the morning,” said Dave Samuhel of AccuWeather.com, The World-Herald's weather consultant. “Where roads haven't been plowed, it's going to be tough.” Those who can delay reporting to work will be better off for doing so, he said. Snow accumulation in the Omaha area was forecast in the range of 6 to 10 inches by 7 a.m. today, when the snow was expected to subside. The heavy snowfall Wednesday set a daily record in Omaha for precipitaition, according to the National Weather Service. The total, melted precipitation for Wednesday was 0.81 inches, based on measurements at Eppley Airfield. The previous Dec. 19 record was .76 inches set in 1881. The city may have caught a break Wednesday night when temperatures remained above freezing longer than expected. That warmth kept the flakes fat and wet, instead of dry and fine, and may have kept snowfall totals down. Morning commuters should expect to encounter slush and snow-covered residential streets before reaching secondary roads that will be clearer, said Scott McIntyre, the City of Omaha's street maintenance engineer. A resident of west Omaha's Candlewood Hills section, for example, may have difficulty on Rose Lane, which borders the lake, before reaching thoroughfares such as 120th and Blondo Streets, he said. Still, most city streets will have “had a plow make a couple passes,” by 7 a.m., McIntyre said. The wet snow, combined with strong winds, contributed to downed tree limbs and power outages. About 32,500 customers of the Omaha Public Power District were without power as of 2:30 a.m. Most of the outages were in Douglas County. Paula Lukowski, an OPPD spokeswoman, said some outages were caused by vehicles striking power poles. One such accident in Omaha caused an outage between Sprague and Grant Streets, from 94th to 98th Streets. Metro transit pulled its buses off the streets in Omaha and Council Bluffs Wednesday night because of slick roads. Several buses became stuck, according to Metro dispatchers. The agency planned to run buses today but said that it could start its service late and that riders should expect delays. The storm brought dangerous conditions to the region and was blamed for two road fatalities in Nebraska. By about 8 p.m., traffic on Interstate 80 had slowed to about 20 mph in the Omaha area. I-80 between Ogallala and Kearney was closed because blowing snow had restricted visibility. No roads or highways had been closed in Iowa, though state transportation authorities there said no one should travel until noon today. Eastern Nebraska and western Iowa are expected to face continuing travel headaches today because of strong winds behind the storm. Along I-80, truck stops filled up quickly after traffic was detoured off the highway. “We have drivers in the restaurant, drivers in the TV lounge and then a lot of drivers just sitting in their trucks,” said Gail Hayford, who works at the Travel Center USA truck stop in Ogallala. By late afternoon, western Nebraskans were reporting snowdrifts of 3 to 4 feet, and scattered power outages had occurred across the state. Utilities had readied crews to restore power as the outages occurred and conditions permitted. The storm was subsiding in Ogallala by about 7 p.m. Wednesday, Hayford said. However, it was clear from the number of emergency vehicles working the Interstate that conditions were still poor east of Ogallala, she said. So many stranded motorists filled Holdrege that the county emergency manager was requesting help from the American Red Cross to set up shelter operations. Holdrege is near the intersection of Highways 183 and 6, just south of Lexington. In south-central Nebraska, visibility was so bad that police in Saronville reported being unable to see light from their own headlights. The storm roaring across the Plains is expected to focus its fury today from eastern Iowa into the Great Lakes, then shift to a mix of rain and snow in the Northeast on Friday, AccuWeather's Samuhel said. World-Herald staff writers Emerson Clarridge and Roseann Moring contributed to this report.
Snow emergencies in Omaha, Council Bluffs
The City of Omaha has declared a snow emergency beginning at midnight Wednesday. It will begin enforcing the city's parking restrictions around noon Thursday. A blizzard warning already is in effect for most of Iowa.
The declaration means the city's odd/even parking regulations for residential streets east of 72nd Street will go into effect. The goal is to make it easier to clear side streets of snow.
On even-numbered days, vehicles must be parked on the side of the street with even-numbered addresses, and the opposite on odd-numbered days. Those found in violation will be ticketed starting at noon Thursday, Mayor Jim Suttle's office said.
The Council Bluffs snow emergency will be in effect until 6 p.m. Thursday. The city's emergency parking ban applies to all streets posted as snow emergency routes.
The odd/even parking ban will take effect at 6 a.m. Thursday and remain until 5 p.m. Friday. Vehicles in violation of the parking ban are subject to fines and towing at the owners' expense.
The Papillion snow emergency will be in effect until 5 p.m. Thursday.
La Vista has declared a snow emergency effective at 10 p.m. Wednesday.
During this time, residents are being asked to not park their vehicles on the street, allowing for the safe passage of snow crews.
New alerts warn cell phone users
Today is also the first time that Omaha area cell phone users received a weather warning via the nation's new disaster alert system. Properly enabled cell phones should have notified their owners of the blizzard warning at 11:30 a.m. If that didn't happen, check your phone's capability or contact your cell phone provider to see if the company is participating in the national alert system. (Learn more about the alerts.)
Police responding to injury accidents only
Three vehicles collided about 8:30 p.m. in the area of 168th and Q Streets, Douglas County dispatchers said. There was at least one injury.
Omaha police have stopped responding to property damage traffic accidents.
Police will continue to respond to injury accidents and those involving disabled vehicles or vehicles blocking traffic.
For all other accidents, drivers should exchange insurance information.
Flights canceled at Eppley
Some flights out of Eppley Airfield already have been canceled, said operations manager Tim Schmitt, including all five of Southwest Airlines and all three American Airlines flights that were scheduled to leave Thursday morning.
The five canceled flights were planes that were supposed to arrive in Omaha this evening from Denver, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Chicago and Phoenix, and turn around quickly back to those cities Thursday morning, said Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins. But the airline took precautionary measures and grounded the planes in those cities, he said.
One United Airlines flight departing from Denver and arriving in Omaha this afternoon was also canceled, he said, because of poor weather conditions in Denver.
Schmitt advised travelers to check their airline's website or call their airlines for the most up-to-date information.
"Our plan is to keep the airport open," he said.
Schmitt said he wasn't seeing many holiday travelers Wednesday, but he expected the rush to start Thursday and Friday.
If you're changing your travel plans to beat or miss the storm, please contact Emily Nohr at 402-444-1192 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
De-icing the streets
City workers 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.