Drivers staying put as blizzard strikes Nebraska Panhandle, closes highways

Drivers staying put as blizzard strikes Nebraska Panhandle, closes highways
Morrill, Neb. (Nebraska State Patrol)

Drivers appear to have heeded warnings to stay off western Nebraska roads Wednesday as blizzard conditions closed all the highways in the Panhandle, according to state officials.

Nebraska State Patrol Superintendent John Bolduc said no fatalities or injuries had been reported as of Wednesday evening, despite extremely hazardous conditions. He credited media outlets with helping spread the word.

“Do not attempt to travel in this storm,” the patrol advised in a tweet earlier in the day.

Interstate 80 westbound was closed from Kearney west, while the eastbound lanes were closed from the Wyoming border to Ogallala, according to the patrol. All other state highways in the Panhandle were closed, along with many in north-central Nebraska.

As of Wednesday evening, Broken Bow had opened a shelter to be ready for people affected by the weather.

The road closures come as a major winter storm rolled out of the Central Rockies. It is forecast to bring as much as 15 to 20 inches of snow in the Panhandle, along with winds gusting to 65 to 70 miles per hour. A wind gust of 89 mph was recorded near Hemingford.

Blizzard conditions were expected through the day Thursday in western Nebraska. With cold air pushing east, rain was expected to shift to snow in northeast Nebraska. As a result, with the powerful winds accompanying this storm, intermittent whiteout conditions were expected in northeastern Nebraska on Thursday, too.

The storm was expected to have an impact across the central U.S., across all of the Plains states into the Mississippi Valley and on into the Upper Great Lakes. It will be responsible for heavy rains, severe thunderstorms, isolated flooding and blizzard conditions, the National Weather Service said.

As the storm develops, “travel could be very difficult. Patchy blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. … Strong winds could cause extensive damage to trees and power lines,” the weather service said.

Large temperature contrasts are expected on either side of the storm, with much-above-average temperatures ahead of the storm and much-below-average temperatures in its wake. North Platte should see just an inch or so of snow, said meteorologist Brandon Thorne of the weather service Office in North Platte, with rain forecast for Omaha and the rest of eastern Nebraska.

Travelers are advised to stay up to date on travel conditions by checking 511, Nebraska’s Advanced Traveler Information System. The system is available online at www.511.nebraska.gov, Nebraska 511’s smartphone app or by dialing 511.

Travelers also can check the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Plow Tracker at https://plows.nebraska.gov/index.html, where the public will be able to observe real-time road conditions from the cabs of snowplows. Weather conditions are often worse than they appear on camera, according to the department.

ACCUWEATHER FORECAST 

STORM CLOSINGS AND CANCELLATIONS

ROAD CONDITIONS

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