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Heavy snow moved into the Omaha area late Thursday afternoon, blanketing area roads as commuters began their evening trek home.
The National Weather Service had updated its forecast, estimating a total of 5 to 8 inches of snow for eastern Nebraska and southwest Iowa from this storm, with the storm largely over by midnight.
In Omaha, approximately 6 inches is expected, said Cathy Zapotocny, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Zapotocny said the lowered amounts are due to additional dry air moving into the Omaha area, sapping the atmosphere of snow before the flakes can reach the ground.
The intensity of the snow is likely to increase this evening before tapering off by midnight. From that point forward, perhaps another half-inch will fall, Zapotocny said.
UPDATE, 7:35 p.m.
Road clearing is going better than expected and city snow-plow crews may be able to begin clearing neighborhood streets after about midnight.
"Things look pretty good," Scott McIntyre, who heads Omaha's snow clearing operation.
That doesn't mean "great" and it doesn't mean a normal commute on Friday, he said.
"We're going to have less than ideal conditions on Friday and somewhat on Saturday," he said.
"If Friday is a normal work day and we have typical morning traffic volume, it's going to be slow-going," he said
Even those roads that have been plowed may have fresh snow on them in the morning because light flurries could continue into the rush hour, he said.
McIntyre cautioned that only some neighborhood streets will be plowed by daybreak, most will not have been.
"Not everyone is going to be able to get up at 6 a.m. and find that their street has been plowed," he said. "Some people will, but most won't.
"It's really going to be the afternoon before the residentials have the appearance of being substantially plowed," he said. "They'll start looking completed after noon."
The city has 100 plows and brine trucks out, which are complemented by about 100 private contractors who are clearing lesser streets for the city.
McIntyre said it will take city crews a while to haul away all the snow that has been cleared or pushed to the center of thoroughfares.
However, he says crews will be ready for the quick turnaround that apparently awaits, based on forecasts of another storm system moving in Sunday night.
"The timing is not great, we'll have some equipment issues, but we're going to gear up and go back out," he said.
UPDATE 6:35 p.m.:
The drive from downtown to 132nd Street and West Center Road took an Omaha World-Herald reporter 75 minutes instead of the normal 35 minutes. However, the reporter noted that he took city streets rather than Interstate 80.
Visibility was reduced to less than a quarter of a mile in some areas. Like other drivers, he encountered some spots where the wheels on his car spun, and there was a harrowing point where the car was determined to follow the snow ruts in the road instead of heading in the direction our reporter intended. With slow and careful driving, he made it home.
As of 6:15 p.m., downtown Omaha was slow, quiet, even dead. Traffic on 13th Street was minimal. Cubby's, frequently busy with people buying deli food, cigarettes, meat and beer, had only a few customers seeking provisions for the night.
Interstate 29 and rural roads in Iowa:
One of our Iowa-bound reporters who drives a four-wheel vehicle advised against travel along that Interstate and into the rural roads of Iowa. Roads were 100 percent snow-covered, he said. Blowing snow is making road-clearing efforts futile in the rural areas, he said.
UPDATE 5:50 p.m: The drive home
Omaha World-Herald employees and their families report that Omaha streets are passable for the evening commute - a bit messy and a slow-go though.
For the most part, traffic is light, they say.
Some of the commuting success depends on timing -- get behind a snowplow and you're much better off than being a couple of blocks ahead of it!
Visibility is reported about one-quarter of a mile, according to the National Weather Service.
Downtown to midtown:
A trip from downtown to 50th and Dodge took one reporter about 35 minutes instead of the normal 10 minutest to 15 minutes. Downtown streets were a mess, he said, but Dodge was in better shape outside of downtown -- at about 33rd Street. Unfortunately, the lot to his apartment complex was blocked, but he was able to get into the parking lot of a bar.
On the other hand, another reporter who left a little later was able to follow a snowplow up Dodge Street. She encountered some whiteout conditions in her mid-town neighborhood, but was nonetheless able to make the trip in normal time.
A trip in northwest Omaha, from 144th Street and West Maple Road to 60th and Blondo Streets, also took about twice as long as normal -- about 30 minutes. Traffic was light, but conditions were slick, and road crews had cleared only one lane on most major roads in the area.
Interstate 80 is open and passable for the evening commute, according to the Nebraska Department of Roads.
"Winter driving conditions apply, but the roads are open," said Mary Jo Oie, with NDOR.
Oie said light snow is reported between Lincoln and Omaha and the driving lane is in better shape than the passing lane.
Already today, two state plows have been hit by semi-tractor trailers.
Those accidents occurred earlier this morning near North Platte and Grand Island.
As of late afternoon, the worst conditions on the Interstate appeared further west in Nebraska -- where snow is blowing in behind the plows.
The area's already seeing a number of closings and cancellations (see the full list here), with libraries, universities and many businesses calling it a day early.
Eppley Airfield is reporting a number of flight cancellations. Just before noon, flights have been canceled to Denver, Houston, Chicago, Memphis, Atlanta, Newark and Washington, D.C. Check here before flying.
The Omaha Police Department has suspended all property damage accidents until further notice. Police urged motorists to call 911 if there is an injury accident or if the vehicles are disabled and blocking traffic. For all other accidents, exchange information. Nebraska law requires motorists to provide name, address, phone number and driver's license number. Omaha Police also recommend that motorists obtain the vehicle information, including the plate number and insurance information. Move your vehicles to a safe area to exchange information.
Regarding school tomorrow. Omaha Public Schools says parents might have to wait until early morning to learn whether students will have a long weekend. If school officials are unable to make a call tonight, the decision would come before 5 a.m.
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• Closings and cancellations: Full list of schools and businesses closed. Know of one? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Forecast and more coverage: Check current conditions
• Road conditions: Nebraska / Iowa
• Air travel: Omaha Airport flight information
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Storm claims a life
A 19-year-old Callaway, Neb., woman died in a two-vehicle crash that is being blamed on slick roads west of Aurora Wednesday evening.
The Nebraska State Patrol urges motorists to use care in traveling across the state, the vast majority of which is snow covered.
The Omaha metro area is on track to get a dusting of snow during the noon hour, followed by flake-free dry air that will postpone significant accumulation until at least late afternoon.
The National Weather Service in Valley said the second band of snow is expected to leave 6 to 8 inches across the metro before ending at 6 a.m. Friday..
While Omaha waits for the storm, most of the rest of the state is seeing snow pile up. The system has advanced from the western areas of the state into southeast Nebraska.
Roads remain passable, but motorists are advised to use care and avoid travel if poosible in areas with snow.
The crash that claimed the life of Kristina Leigh Anne Allen happened about 4:30 p.m. on Interstate 80 west near the Giltner exit in Hamilton County, according to the State Patrol.
An eastbound SUV went out of control, crossed the median and struck Allen's Saturn, according to the crash report. The driver of the SUV, Lindsay D. Schluntz, 28, of Kearney, was not injured. Both women were wearing seat belts, the report said.
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Snow mounts as it heads east
While snow hasn't arrived in the Omaha and Lincoln areas, the rest of the state is reporting anywhere from 1 to 8 inches just after 8 a.m.
Roads remain open across the state, but west of the Lincoln and York areas, conditions are slick and motorists are adivsed to use extreme caution.
The snow that began falling yesterday in the western areas of the state has been steadily accumulating on highways. Grand Island was among the areas reporting cars slipping into ditches, said Mary Jo Oie of the Nebraska Department of Roads.
The storm has brought steady, consistent snow, but little to no wind. That has allowed road crews to keep clearing highways, Oie said. Short of a traffic-blocking accident, the state doesn't anticipate the need to close roads, she said.
Road crews have treated highways in the Omaha and Lincoln areas, and are now waiting with plows at the ready to start clearing snow when it arrives -- possibly by mid- to late morning.
Central Nebraska -- particularly in southern and western communities such as Stapleton, Stockville, Cozad and Wilsonville -- saw the heaviest snowfall overnight. By the time the system moves out this evening, the region could have 8 to 10 inches to shovel.
Fortunately, the snow isn't drifting or wet and heavy, said Jim Sweet with the National Weather Service in North Platte.
"You won't have a heart attack shoveling this snow," he said.
The Weather Service in Hastings has recorded 1.7 inches, said Phil Beda, a hydro-meteorological technician. The snow began falling about midnight, he said, and roads in south-central Nebraska were snow-covered with an icy base underneath them.
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Early morning forecast: up to 8 inches in Omaha
The National Weather Service Office in Valley, Neb., predicted at 6:30 a.m. that a total of seven to eight inches of snow for the Omaha-Council Bluffs area over Thursday afternoon into early Friday.
Meteorologist Bryon Miller said snow should start in southeast Nebraska and Lincoln mid- to late Thursday morning, with the storm moving into the Omaha area by early Thursday afternoon.
Omaha can expect a high temperature in the lower 20s and a low tonight around 15 to 20 degrees. Total snow accumulation for Omaha should be around seven to eight inches, Miller said.
Friday will see a high in the lower 20s and a low temperature around five degrees, Miller said, and another system that could bring more snow may move into the Omaha area by late Sunday.
Meanwhile, as little as 4 inches to as much as 12 inches is forecasted for Omaha.
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Snowfall is among the most difficult calculations meteorologists make. Within thousands of feet of atmosphere, an undetected change in temperature of a degree or two can sabotage even the best forecast.
Today's storm has been even more difficult because of an unusual wind pattern that will cause snow to “vanish” as it falls. How soon that vanishing act ends, and actual accumulation begins, will determine the totals.
The reason for the disappearing snow has to do with dry air over Iowa that is being pushed into Nebraska by winds out of the east, said Becky Kern, a meteorologist for the weather service.
As the dry air collides with the eastward-moving storm, it will eat into the edge of it, causing the snow to evaporate. When enough snow has turned to vapor, the atmosphere will become saturated to the point that flakes will be able to reach the ground, she said.
Amateur weather watchers may be able to see this happening on radar, she said. If morning radar shows snow pushing into the Omaha area but not actually arriving, it's because the front edge of the storm is being eroded by the dry air.
By about noon, meteorologists expect snow to begin reaching the ground. As more snow fills in, the rate of snowfall will pick up until the snow becomes so intense that it obscures visibility.
By the evening commute, meteorologists expect that snow could be falling at a rate of 1 inch an hour and continue doing so for several hours. That's why forecasters expect conditions to deteriorate quickly once the heavy snow begins.
In eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, the U.S. Highway 30 and Interstate 80 corridors are likely to see the heaviest snow between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. today, with light snow continuing after that.
Snowfall is expected to end by daybreak Friday.
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