Residents across the metro area fought flooded garages and drove through wet streets, but major water issues were kept at bay Saturday.
It was the rain in the forecast that put authorities on alert, with widespread heavy rain and flooding expected as a storm invades eastern Nebraska and western Iowa on Tuesday night and Wednesday.
In Omaha, Saturday’s rain tied a record for the date, with Eppley Airfield measuring 0.54 of an inch.
During spring or summer, that might not seem like a lot of rain, but a half-inch of rain is a lot in early March, said David Pearson, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service office in Valley.
Rainfall amounts in other eastern Nebraska locations generally ranged from 0.25 of an inch to 0.75, Pearson said, and included 0.14 of an inch at Wahoo, 0.30 at Lincoln, 0.50 at Blair, 0.73 at Falls City and 0.75 at Tekamah.
Any changes to rivers and creeks from Saturday’s rain were manageable, he said. No significant flooding from area waterways was reported.
But Saturday’s rain and melting snow did create problems on several streets and at some homes.
Randy Craft, who just moved into an apartment near 115th and Blondo Streets, said he discovered ankle-deep water and wet furniture in his garage Saturday morning.
He said his apartment managers told him that they’d fix the problem on Monday, but he’s afraid water will continue to rise. A bump near the street pushes water toward the garage, Craft said.
“The snow’s melting, isn’t it?” he said. “I’m worried because my wife does not walk well. If she slips and falls there, that’s a really bad potential danger.”
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Omaha sewer maintenance crews were out in full force trying to avoid street flooding by clearing away snow from curbside stormwater inlets.
Steve Andersen, division manager, said minor flooding occurred on some streets, but those problems were quickly resolved.
Crews had prepared for the melting and rain by clearing more than a thousand stormwater inlets on major and secondary streets, he said.
“With us getting out there ahead of time, we avoided a lot of the more significant issues,” Andersen said.
About 80 sewer maintenance workers were out clearing inlets and responding to calls that were being screened and prioritized. Those crews were in addition to any street maintenance workers still out clearing areas of the city.
With all of the recent snowfall and the forecast for rain, Andersen said, the city was well-aware of potential problems with blocked stormwater inlets. Public Works officials “got a pretty good jump on it with the planning and scoping we did a couple of days leading into this,” he said.
The sewer crews began clearing inlets on Friday and were continuing to do so throughout Saturday, using backhoes, front loaders and shovels to clear the openings, Andersen said.
Blocked inlets or street flooding can be reported to the sewer maintenance division at 402-444-5332 or the Mayor’s Hotline at 402-444-5555.
Andersen encouraged people to call the city only if there is significant street flooding or if property or lives are at risk.
He also encouraged residents, if they are able, to clear snow from inlets close to their home. Once the water starts flowing, the path should open up more, he said.
The sewer crews will continue their work Sunday, when more melting is expected. But it should be slower because of lower temperatures and without the added rain.
Omaha has a chance of precipitation Monday night through Thursday, with heavy rain possible Tuesday night and Wednesday, according to the weather service.
Computer forecast models seemed to agree that at least 1 to 2 inches of rain are possible across most of eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, said Pearson, from the weather service. And those totals appear to be on the conservative side, he said.
This time of year any rain amounts that top an inch would be “extreme,” he said, causing rivers and creeks to rise and ice to break. Homes outside typical flood areas could be at risk.
“It looks like it’s going to happen,” Pearson said of the heavy rain. “It’s just a matter of how much.”
And “somebody’s probably going to get flooding,” he said. “We’re just hoping it’s not going to be too bad.”
Current conditions make the area ripe for floods: frozen, saturated ground; accumulation of snow; and ice-packed rivers. Add in heavy, widespread rain, and “that’s a recipe for flooding,” Pearson said.
“We don’t need any more moisture,” he said. “Anything more is too much.”