Ledell Maxwell headed out to the barbershop on Wednesday morning, his day off, but the slippery and snow-covered hill near his house at 95th and Wirt Streets proved a formidable foe.
He promptly turned around and went back home. His haircut would have to wait.
But by Wednesday afternoon, he was singing a different tune after plows had come by and cleared the street.
“They did good,” he said.
What do you get when soft, slushy snow falls on top of hardened ice on Omaha’s side streets?
In some places, a real mess.
Omaha drivers are slogging through more rounds of snow this week, with roughly 3 inches falling Wednesday and another 1 to 3 inches possible through Friday morning, forecasters said. City of Omaha public works crews expect to work round-the-clock until then.
The city’s first priority is main thoroughfares and secondary roads. By noon Wednesday, the city’s fleet of private contractors had headed out to plow residential streets. Those contractors — 22 companies with about 175 trucks — aren’t sent out until about 2 inches of snow have fallen, said Austin Rowser, Omaha’s street maintenance engineer.
The city also sent plows into residential neighborhoods after Friday’s snow, he said.
But complaints about the conditions of side streets started rolling in early Wednesday (along with a few pointed comments on social media that snow in January isn’t all that unexpected or dire).
After Friday’s snowfall, subfreezing temperatures and hard-packed snow combined to turn some neighborhood streets icy. The weather started warming up Tuesday night, but the new snow layered on top didn’t help.
“I live on a hill, every direction in my neighborhood is a hill, and they are all full of ice. This was before all the stuff we are getting right now,” one resident of Orchard Hill, off 42nd Street and Military Avenue, wrote Wednesday on OmahaHotline.com. The website is a place where people can report problems with snow removal or potholes.
More than 50 new reports were logged by Wednesday evening on the site related to snowy sidewalks or streets.
One resident reported that it was difficult to drive into or out of the Kingswood subdivision, near 139th Street and West Center Road. Another person who lives in a neighborhood just southwest of Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in northwest Omaha asked for more attention from the city.
Leanne Casebeer was out shoveling her driveway and sidewalk near 105th Street and Military Road with her grandson.
Noah is a second grader at Prairie Wind Elementary and was grateful for a snow day, the second in six days. His grandmother was thankful for the warming conditions that helped thaw some of the tamped-down ice on her street.
“I just scraped out the last of my ice this morning,” she said Wednesday afternoon.
Plows did a decent job removing snow in her neighborhood, but intersections piled with snow remained slushy and a little tricky, Casebeer said.
“You can’t stop or you’ll get stuck,” she said. She watched a pickup truck struggle to turn onto Military Road. “Yup, watch him spin his wheels.”
Before 2016, side streets weren’t typically plowed until 4 inches of snow had fallen, but a survey showed that residents wanted snow cleared from side streets faster.
The city turns to private contractors to plow most residential streets, while city crews tackle main roads. Other smaller and midsize cities, such as Kansas City, Des Moines and Lincoln, primarily use city plows for all streets.
Omaha officials say people expect clear streets, and they get that faster with contractors’ help.
“If we were doing it ourselves, it would be days before we got to them,” Rowser said.
The city aims to plow residential streets with contractors within 12 hours of the end of a snowfall when less than 4 inches of snow falls, 18 hours for 4 to 8 inches and less than 24 hours for snowfalls of more than 8 inches.
Contractors will put down salt and de-icing chemicals, he said, but it may take time to penetrate the ice and snowpack.
“We don’t guarantee you’re going to see clean pavement,” he said.