• Closings and cancellations: Full list of schools and businesses closed. Know of one? Email us at email@example.com
• Getting ready: See how Omahans are preparing for the snow
• School makeup days: What happens if school gets canceled?
• Forecast and more coverage: Check current conditions
• Road conditions: Nebraska / Iowa
• Air travel: Omaha Airport flight information
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Deciding whether to cancel classes in the Omaha metro area due to Thursday's storm just got tougher.
The closer Thursday's snowstorm gets to the Omaha metro area, the clearer it has become that dry winds blowing from the east will delay the accumulation of snow, complicating forecasts of afternoon travel conditions.
The dry winds will rob the atmosphere of moisture, delaying the onset of accumulating snow until the air is saturated.
Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said the latest analysis indicates snow probably won't start in the Omaha area until about noon Thursday, and perhaps only an inch may accumulate during the early afternoon.
Heavy snow may not start falling until about 4 p.m. Thursday, said Brian Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Four to eight inches of snow is forecast Thursday in the Omaha area.
He and his colleague Scott Dergan said that's their best analysis, but it's not a lock.
"That's a middle-of-the-road forecast, our best estimate," Dergan said. "I would give it (the snow) a 50-50 chance of starting a little earlier or a little later."
Dergan said forecasters will gain better insight as the storm gets even closer. As of late morning, the heart of the storm was over southern California. New model runs will add greater certainly by early evening and another set of model runs in the early morning hours will provide even greater confidence by about 6 a.m. Thursday.
Pity the school superintendent who has to decide on school closures early Thursday morning when it may not be snowing – and may not snow much throughout the day.
And especially because conditions are expected to deteriorate quickly once the atmosphere becomes saturated.
Dergan said heavy snow – an inch an hour – could be falling during the evening drive home for commuters.
"Anytime between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. we're going to have some heavy snow falling," he said. "Heavy means coming down good."
Whether plows will be able to keep the roads clear is hard to guess, Dergan said. The good news is that winds are not expected to be strong, so there shouldn't be a problem with blowing snow filling in the roads behind the crews. Instead, the issue will simply be rapidly filling in snowfall.
Heavier snow will begin falling earlier in Lincoln, so drivers commuting between Lincoln and Omaha Thursday afternoon will need to take that into consideration.
Forecasters say they continue to expect that the snow will be over by Friday morning, and that winds will have diminished.
More snow on the way?
Successive storms moving through Nebraska and Iowa over the next couple of weeks could bring the Omaha area its greatest cluster of snowfalls since December 2009.
Four to eight inches of snow is forecast Thursday in the Omaha area, with the heaviest snow falling during the day. Another storm is expected to follow on its heels early next week. And a third may be brewing behind that, meteorologists say.
“We're looking at a pattern across the central U.S. that could be conducive toward a series of storm systems,” said Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist on the national forecast desk of the National Weather Service.
Orrison cautioned that the third system has yet to come together, so there's no way to project its path or timing, but he noted that a couple computer models support the “potential for a third storm.”
Successive significant snowstorms have been hard to come by the past couple of winters. A storm early last February dropped 9.1 inches on Omaha, but that occurred in isolation.
Otherwise, you need to look back to December 2009 for major snow accumulation. That month, 24.6 inches fell, setting the stage for a record string of days — 88 — with at least an inch of snow on the ground.
Conditions lately have more closely approximated a snow drought. From late last winter to early in this season, Omaha saw a record number of days — 295 — without snow.
What's significant about the next two storms is that they're following a track that tends to generate heavy snow, said Andy Mussoline, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc., The World-Herald's private weather consultant.
The storms are entering North America in the western United States, then traveling across the continent far enough south to pull in Gulf of Mexico moisture. By contrast, storms that cross the continent farther north typically generate less snow in this area.
Mussoline said forecast models indicate that the second storm will arrive Sunday into Monday. Current projections have that storm tracking farther north than Thursday's, which could lessen snowfall and even affect the type of precipitation. But it's too soon to know. What appears likely is that wind will be a much bigger problem with that storm.
The elements for the third potential system are still coalescing in Asia, Mussoline said.
The snow is welcome but will do little to ease the chronic drought that has gripped the region, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center.
With the ground frozen, little of the snow will soak into the soil, Svoboda said. However, runoff will help replenish stock ponds, streams and reservoirs.
“We are not going to be choosy,” he said.
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