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Weakened blizzard hinders visibility, causes slick roads in Omaha

April 15, 2018 GMT

The spring blizzard that brought heavy snow and whiteout conditions to much of western, central and northeast Nebraska had diminished in intensity by the time it reached Omaha.

But blowing snow still reduced visibility Saturday night. Streets were slick, and bridges were icy.

A vehicle slid into a Nebraska State Patrol cruiser on westbound Interstate 80 near I Street about 10:40 p.m. No injuries were reported.

About 11:20 p.m., Omaha police announced that they had stopped responding to crashes that didn’t involve injuries and in which the vehicles could be moved.

Earlier in the day, multiple accidents and whiteout conditions prompted the closure of U.S. Highway 275 between Pilger and Norfolk. The highway reopened before 4 p.m., but officials in Stanton County, which is east of Norfolk, waited to send out snowplows until after the winds died down, the National Weather Service said.

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Logan View High School in Hooper postponed its prom from Saturday night until Sunday afternoon because of the weather.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued an emergency declaration Saturday to allow state funds to be used for the response to the blizzard.

“Hundreds of motorists have been stranded, and power outages are reported in many communities,” Ricketts said in a written statement. “This declaration allows state funds from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to help our communities in their response.”

The Nebraska State Patrol said a 61-year-old man died Friday when the eastbound semitrailer truck he was driving crossed the median and crashed into a stalled semi on Interstate 80 near Chappell in western Nebraska. The driver was identified as Rollo Ward of Idaho Falls, Idaho.

Road closures, including Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 30, affected travelers. Officials in Big Springs and Sidney opened shelters.

I-80 was closed to westbound traffic from Grand Island to the Wyoming state line, and eastbound I-80 was closed from the Wyoming state line to Ogallala.

Some state highways also were closed or impassable.

The forecast for Sunday for the Omaha area called for a high in the low 30s. Monday’s high was expected to reach the upper 40s.

Van DeWald, a weather service meteorologist, said another system could hit the area Tuesday night into early Wednesday, bringing a chance of mostly rain to the Omaha area and a rain-snow mix to northeast Nebraska.

Butte in Boyd County and Newport in Rock County, both in north-central Nebraska, recorded 10 inches and 14 inches of snow respectively by early Saturday morning. Saturday’s snowfall totals weren’t as impressive because the precipitation fell as rain and sleet before changing over to snow, the weather service said.

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More than 100 stranded motorists in western Nebraska were helped Friday night by Nebraska State Patrol troopers and authorities from Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Sidney. One section of Interstate 80 near Sidney had at least 50 stranded vehicles, according to the patrol. Officers checked each vehicle, and with the help of buses from Sidney Public Schools, took the stranded motorists to a church in Sidney or to hotels.

The stranded vehicles near Sidney remained there Saturday afternoon, most of them still parked on the Interstate.

Ed Sadler, the city manager in Sidney, said the sun came out Saturday afternoon and the snow on the roads started to melt.

The focus for the rest of the day, he said, was getting the stranded motorists back to their vehicles.

He estimated more than 1,000 semitrailer trucks stopped in Sidney on Friday night. Most of them went to truck stops and the Cabela’s and Walmart parking lots.

“We just started stacking them up,” he said. “That’s just what happens in Sidney when the Interstate shuts down.”

State troopers also responded to more than 80 other calls from stranded drivers in the region on Friday night.

Sue Ketzler, 62, of Omaha, waited in her car with her 19-year-old daughter for nearly eight hours before a state trooper took them to a hotel in Sidney on Friday night.

The two were traveling to Laramie, Wyoming, and were planning to pull into Sidney for lunch. They were just four miles from town when traffic came to a standstill.

“It went from flurries to whiteout in, like, five minutes,” Ketzler said. She saw the pickup truck in front of her start braking and sliding and then looked in her rear-view mirror to see a jackknifed semitrailer sliding toward her car. She pulled off the shoulder and the semi slid past her.

For the next several hours, the two stayed in the car without food and with just a bottle of water, a book and some word games.

When the trooper picked them up, Ketzler said, he told her and her daughter that the storm was the worst spring snow he remembered in the area.

Saturday morning, mother and daughter took a bus back to their car. The roads to Laramie were clear, she said Saturday afternoon.

“It was an ordeal, for sure,” Ketzler said. “I’m just glad we are OK and our car is OK.”

A full list of road closures and other disruptions can be found on Nebraska 511.