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• Photo showcase: Storm makes for wintry commute in Omaha
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The timing of snowfall in the Omaha metro area – with the heaviest amounts falling after midnight – made life difficult Wednesday for city plow crews, school officials deciding whether to hold classes and commuters snarled in lines of stuck or sliding cars.
About 3 inches to 4 inches of snow had fallen in the metro by 6 a.m., and the strong winds accompanying the storm slowed efforts to clear roads and parking lots in time for the morning commute.
The city's Metro buses were parked until at least 7 a.m. because they couldn't climb hills or safely navigate major roadways. School buses never made it out on the road; classes across the city were called off. Police were so busy responding to crashes and directing traffic that they stopped responding to non-injury accidents midway through the commute.
The snow was part of a powerful storm system cutting across the nation's midsection from southwest to northeast.
As bad as conditions were in Omaha, they were much worse in Iowa, particularly the eastern part of the state, where travel was discouraged by Iowa roads officials.
Stretches of Interstate 80 at Lincoln, between York and Aurora and near Des Moines were closed due to accidents.
Numerous accidents occurred along area roads and highways, but as of late morning, none appeared to be fatal.
In Omaha, Jerry Bartee, assistant superintendent of operations for Omaha Public Schools, said the district tried its best to hold classes, with crews trying to clear school parking lots until at least 4:30 a.m. It was a losing battle, and in consultation with other metro districts, OPS decided to declare a snow day for students. OPS announced the closing at 5:20 a.m., said Kailyn Watson, spokeswoman.
Watson said the district hadn't made a decision about Thursday classes. While more snow isn't in the forecast, bitterly cold weather is following the system. School administrators will be watching the forecast, which calls for lows tonight in the single digits and a high barely climbing to about 10 degrees during the day Thursday before dropping again.
Scott McIntyre, who is in charge of Omaha plowing, said crews should be able to make a complete sweep of city streets today. The overnight plunging temperatures add some urgency because salt and brine don't work efficiently below about 20 degrees, he said.
Tonight and Thursday, the city will spread sand and salt on slick spots to help break up any ice that might form in that cold weather on hills and intersections, McIntyre said.
City officials said trash collection was thrown behind by the storm. The city asks that residents along the Wednesday route whose trash had not been collected by 7 p.m. report the missed collection to 402-444-5238.
Snowfall amounts were generally within the forecasted expectation, although some were a little heavier. The forecasted amounts changed quickly late Thursday as the storm approached.
Tuesday morning forecasts were for 1 inches to 2 inches, but by late afternoon, the National Weather Service had doubled its estimate to 2 inches to 4 inches. The blowing and drifting of snow may have made it seem heavier.
Light snow started falling in the Omaha metro area from about 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. but not much accumulated before midnight, said Bryon Miller, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Valley. By daybreak, the heaviest snow had tapered off and light snow continued after 6 a.m. without much accumulation.
Wind averaged 15 mph to 25 mph after midnight, gusting to more than 30 mph, which contributed to the blowing snow.
The snow started earlier in Lincoln, with about 2 inches before midnight and about 3 inches after midnight, he said. Parts of southeast Nebraska, including parts of southern Lincoln, may have had more than 5 inches.
World-Herald staff writers Andrew J. Nelson, Kevin Cole and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Around the city and region:
Accident reports: Omaha police announced just before 12:30 p.m. that they were again responding to non-injury crashes.
Nebraska roads: Travel is hazardous throught the region. Visibility was down to less than a half-mile as gusty winds joined early Wednesday with snowfall in the corridor from Beatrice, Neb., to Harlan, Iowa, according to the National Weather Service.
Caution is urged for all roads and highways in southeast and south-central Nebraska as well as in northeast Nebraska.
Normal driving conditions are reported across most of the western two-thirds of the state, with pockets of problems, including the Chadron area, where caution to extreme caution is advised.
U.S. Highway 6 has been reopened. Interstate 80 also is open statewide.
Iowa roads: Travel conditions by 9:15 a.m. were improved in western Iowa, thanks to snowfall taper off, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation.
Snow continued to fall at midmorning east of the Storm Lake-Denison-Atlantic area. Visibility continued to be a problem because of blowing snow.
East-central Iowa remains treacherous and travel was not advised in most of that area of the state.
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