The season’s first major winter storm sweeps across Nebraska on Tuesday, just in time to create dangerous travel conditions for the start of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Bouts of windy, rainy, snowy weather are expected across much of the country through the weekend. As a result, forecasters and emergency officials are urging people to monitor conditions and adjust their travel plans accordingly.
The bad weather couldn’t come at a worse time.
This Thanksgiving is expected to be one of the busiest holidays for travel in nearly 20 years, according to AAA. The company estimates that more than 55 million people will travel farther than 50 miles this year, making it the second busiest Thanksgiving since 2000. Traditionally, Thanksgiving is the busiest holiday for travel.
“A lot of people feel pressure to make it to their planned destinations,” said Rod Donavon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Des Moines. “But there are going to be significant travel impacts.”
About 1,100 travelers stranded by heavy snow and high winds spent Monday night camped out at Denver’s airport, the Associated Press reported. Hundreds of flights were canceled because of the storm that was still dumping snow on the city Tuesday.
Through Wednesday, treacherous weather is possible from eastern Colorado, across Nebraska, and northeasterly toward the Great Lakes, according to the weather service’s Winter Severity Index.
Specifically, blizzardlike conditions are possible in some areas due to a combination of heavy snow and strong winds, according to the weather service and AccuWeather Inc., The World-Herald’s weather consultant.
Six to 11 inches of snow and winds gusting to 40 mph are possible Tuesday across large sections of Nebraska.
Drivers can expect deteriorating conditions Tuesday, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation. This could include slushy and ice-covered roads and reduced visibility due to the winds. The agency provides real-time viewing of road conditions from the cabs of its plows at 511.nebraska.gov.
And while snowfall should taper off Wednesday morning, there will probably be enough snow on the ground in many areas of the state, combined with strong winds, to cause visibility problems, according to the weather service.
The Nebraska State Patrol and Nebraska Department of Transportation both issued advisories Monday, asking people to travel with care.
“Thanksgiving week is a major travel period and this strong winter storm has the potential to make travel difficult,” said Col. John Bolduc, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. “Drivers should plan ahead and adjust plans accordingly.”
Omaha could receive anywhere from a trace of snow to 4 inches on Tuesday, depending upon how quickly the temperature falls and rain turns to snow, said Brian Barjenbruch of the weather service.
For the Tuesday evening commute, the Omaha area probably will see a rain-snow mix, said Taylor Nicolaisen, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Valley. By 7 p.m. or so, he said, the precipitation will be mostly snow.
The potential for a snowy Tuesday afternoon spooked some school districts. The Omaha Public Schools on Monday evening announced that all after-school activities on Tuesday would be canceled.
Wednesday morning commuters could see some blowing snow, Nicolaisen said, but the precipitation should be done by 2 a.m.
Thanksgiving morning is expected to see a break in the weather in eastern Nebraska, with snow picking up again in the afternoon in some areas. Families making day trips may be able to travel without too much difficulty, depending upon how the weather plays out, forecasters say.
“Wouldn’t you know it, by Friday we have another strong system coming in,” Barjenbruch said. And while that system is projected to bring mostly rain to the region, it is expected to be noteworthy for the strong winds that gain intensity through the weekend. Drivers traveling in open stretches can plan on gripping their steering wheels as they negotiate wet pavement across much of the central U.S.
As that system moves out, cold air settles in, Barjenbruch said. Temperatures could drop to the teens Sunday night.
“Given that we have three strong storm systems, it’s going to be really important that you check your route,” Barjenbruch said. “There’s no need to put yourself in a dangerous situation.”