Snow problem: Second storm in a month hits western Nebraska

Visibility is poor along the downtown stretch of Fourth Street Thursday morning. However, buildings throughout the city helped blunt the severity of snowdrifts, according to North Platte Public Service Director Layne Groseth.

This April blizzard, as blizzards go, never quite got going in North Platte.

Western Nebraska’s second major snowstorm in a month moved through Wednesday night and Thursday, closing Interstate 80, schools and several major highways while dumping nearly a foot of fresh snow on winter-weary ranchers across the northern Sandhills.

“It’s white, it’s slick and nobody should be traveling,” said a cashier at the Sandhill Oil Co. convenience store on Nebraska Highway 2 east of Thedford. “Anything that’s coming into the station is packed with ice.”

Rural areas of Lincoln County shared similar experiences, though skies began to lighten in North Platte Thursday afternoon after dropping a fraction of the 9 to 15 inches of snow projected a day before.

County road crews went to work clearing paved roads about 5 a.m. Thursday, Highway Superintendent Carla O’Dell said at midmorning. With strong winds whipping across open fields, snow was “blowing in as fast as we can remove it,” she said.

Brady residents said they got around 10 inches of snow, O’Dell said. The National Weather Service reported snowfalls of 10 inches near Tryon, 8.8 inches near Thedford, 8 inches near Mullen and 7.3 inches at Valentine.

Power went out in Thedford for an hour Wednesday and three hours Thursday morning, said the store cashier, who declined to give her name.

By contrast, only 3 inches of snow fell from Wednesday night through midday Thursday at the weather service office at North Platte’s Lee Bird Field.

“Down here, a lot of it was melting as it was coming down,” said weather service meteorologist Jaclyn Gomez. “We had a lot of sleet and freezing drizzle (Wednesday night), so since it took a bit longer to change over from sleet to snow, that cut down on some of the snow totals.”

North Platte and other schools in the region canceled classes Thursday.

The Nebraska School Activities Association postponed Friday’s scheduled District Music Contest at Hershey for smaller and medium-sized high schools until Monday. North Platte High School planned to hold its similar contest for its own music students as scheduled today.

The weather service lifted its blizzard warning for Lincoln County about 3 p.m. Thursday, 14 hours ahead of schedule, Gomez said.

The city of North Platte lifted its snow emergency about 2:30 p.m., soon after the Nebraska State Patrol began reopening portions of I-80 that had been closed from the Wyoming line to Kearney at the storm’s height.

“We’re fortunate we haven’t gotten as much snow as they predicted,” said North Platte Public Service Director Layne Groseth, whose crews started plowing icy and snowy streets about 2:30 a.m.

“Even this morning when I was out, it was snowing heavily but visibility wasn’t terribly diminished around town,” added City Administrator Jim Hawks.

Buildings throughout the city did their usual job of blunting widespread drifting from high winds, though Groseth said city plows faced early challenges from drifts along Rodeo Road and north of the Jeffers Street overpass.

The North Platte airport recorded a 54 mph gust at the storm’s height, Gomez said. Top speeds at other regional airports reached 62 mph at Broken Bow, 58 mph at Imperial, 55 mph at Valentine and 46 mph at Ogallala.

Local law enforcement agencies were spared from facing any injury accidents, though Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies dealt with “lots of stuck folks outside of the valley” of the twin Plattes, said Chief Deputy Roland Kramer.

North Platte Police Officer Beth Kerr, her department’s public information officer, lamented that local drivers seemed quick to forget their winter driving skills after spring officially began March 20.

“The last couple of storms have caused the same problems, over and over again,” said Kerr, referring to North Platte’s surprise 8-inch snowfall March 29 as well as this week’s storm. “Our community is well-informed and they know that a storm is coming, but people still insist on going about their business as if nothing is happening. This causes them to get into accidents, get stuck and have a whole host of other issues that are solely related to the weather.”

Motorists got off I-80 and into local motels in good order when the Nebraska Department of Transportation began a rolling shutdown Wednesday, said representatives of two North Platte motels along the route.

“Last night, due to weather advisories ahead of time, a lot of people called and canceled, chose not to drive,” said Kara Lee, who works the front desk at La Quinta Inn and Suites at the Newberry Access interchange.

“People are getting smarter and they are not traveling,” said Jo Ann Sorensen, a front desk service representative at Holiday Inn Express. “If winter storms come up and we’re not expecting it, then we end up with a big spike. The last time we ended up selling out.”

Chilly conditions will linger the next two days, Gomez said, with North Platte’s high temperatures limited to the mid-30s today and low 40s Saturday. More seasonal readings return Sunday, with highs in the mid-50s to lower 60s through Thursday.

Telegraph reporter Job Vigil contributed to this story.

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