Bitter arctic air is making a quick push through the Omaha area Thursday and Friday morning — on the heels of a similarly fast snowstorm that turned roads treacherous and claimed a life in Iowa.
Temperatures are forecast in the single digits, and wind chills were expected to be around 10 to 15 degrees below zero, powered by north winds of around 20 mph. Temperatures aren't expected to rise much from the morning low Thursday of about 9 degrees as the cold air overrules normal daytime warming.
Conditions must be cold enough to meet the Omaha Public Schools' criteria for temperature-related school closings. District guidelines call for canceling classes if there are sustained wind chills of 20 degrees below zero, said David Patton, an OPS spokesman.
OPS and Laidlaw Transit planned to have crews at work early Thursday getting school buses ready for the day, Patton said. Workers go bus by bus, making sure each will start. Battery warmers and special gels are used to ensure the diesel fuel functions properly in frigid weather.
Patton said parents should monitor news outlets, including Omaha.com, for closings.
Temperatures could dip even lower on Friday morning, possibly producing Omaha's lowest reading of the winter: 4-below zero. That would edge out the 1 degree below recorded Dec. 26.
Temperatures will begin rebounding later Friday, when highs could reach the mid-20s with increasing cloudiness, and then climb into the upper 30s to low 40s by Sunday.
The cold is being driven south by Arctic high pressure that is punishing eastern Montana with very cold conditions, Rick Chermok, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Valley, Neb., said early Thursday.
Omaha officially recorded 3.3 inches of snow at Eppley Airfield in the blast of winter that arrived Wednesday. Snowfall totals elsewhere in the metropolitan area were higher, including Papillion with 4.8 inches and Glenwood, Iowa, with 6 inches.
In the Omaha area, the heaviest snow occurred between midnight and 6 a.m., the National Weather Service said.
Residents struggled to get to work as roads became slick and winds buffeted vehicles.
Stretches of Interstate 80 closed in Iowa and Nebraska, largely due to strong winds scattering semitrailer trucks across the lanes and blocking traffic.
The longest I-80 closing occurred in Nebraska, from York to Aurora, from about 3:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, said State Patrol Capt. Chris Kolb.
“It was extremely icy, and with the high winds, semis were unable to navigate that slick roadway without losing control or being blown into a ditch or jackknifing,” Kolb said.
Despite eight to 10 semis knocked off the highway or jackknifed on that stretch of I-80, there were no reports of people with life-threatening injuries.
In Iowa, a Council Bluffs woman was killed while driving on I-80 as the storm began arriving in the area. Heather Ann Roberts, 41, was headed west on I-80 about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday when she lost control of her pickup truck on ice, crossed the median and was broadsided by an oncoming semi. The accident occurred in Adair County.
A 77-year-old woman survived a frightening crash Wednesday afternoon on U.S. Highway 59 just north of the Iowa-Missouri border.
The woman's vehicle hit a patch of ice, went out of control and plunged into a pond. She was rescued uninjured by Shenandoah firefighters, said Deputy Andrew Wake of the Fremont County Sheriff's Office.
The storm came up from the Southwest and smacked the southeast portion of Nebraska and most of Iowa as it headed northeast. Much of central and eastern Iowa grappled with blizzard-like conditions.
Other snowfall totals in the region: 5 inches at the Lincoln airport, 2.9 inches in Bennington and 1.6 inches in Fort Calhoun. In Iowa, Little Sioux received 1.5 inches, Red Oak, 2.7 inches and Shenandoah, 5.5 inches.
World-Herald staff writer Jay Withrow contributed to this report.