Blizzard conditions hit Panhandle

March 15, 2019

SCOTTSBLUFF — Residents in the Panhandle of Nebraska woke up Thursday morning to the results of a major, late winter snowstorm. The storm, which affected 25 states, brought blizzard conditions to the Nebraska Panhandle.

Freezing rain began falling around 9 a.m., Wednesday, turning to snow as the day went on. By 10:30 a.m., visibility was low and whiteout conditions were occurring. All highways in the Panhandle were closed and remained closed through Thursday.

Wind gusts on Wednesday were reported to be at 50-60 miles per hour, dropping to 30-40 miles per hour on Thursday and creating drifts.

Jeff Darmon, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, Wyoming, said the storm was one of the more significant ones western Nebraska has had in quite a while.

“It was such a large storm and the thing that made it unusual was the duration of it,” Darmon said.

The total amount of snow reported to the NWS is large considering other storms that have occurred in March, though the wind played a major part in not being able to get accurate numbers.

“The amount of time the wind stayed up was almost a solid 24 hours of wind and drifting snow,” Darmon said. “That makes accurate measurements difficult.”

Until early Thursday evening, all highways in the Panhandle are closed due to blizzard conditions and officials had requested people limit travel. Blizzard advisories were in effect until 6 p.m., Thursday. Both lanes of Interstate 80 and other highways were opened Thursday evening.

Tim Newman, Region 22 Emergency Management director, said many vehicles have become stuck in roadways and even some city equipment had become stuck by Thursday morning. He advised that the City of Scottsbluff’s personnel will not be assisting with removal of vehicles and by mid-morning, city officials were advising crews would begin clearing residential streets. For the most part, Gering and Scottsbluff officials advised that road crews would focus primarily on clearing snow and emergency routes Thursday.

Gering officials issued a press release Thursday afternoon, stating that crews would work within the next couple of days to plow primary and secondary streets. Crews intend to plow one 8-foot path through residential neighborhoods starting Friday. However, streets would not be plowed if vehicles were stuck in the streets and urged people to get vehicles into private driveways or parked on the appropriate curb.

Alliance officials issued similar advisories to residents, noting drifts on roadways were 5 to 7 feet in some areas. Ice is hampering snow removal efforts, Alliance officials said in a press release.

For some, the inclement weather meant business. For others, business had to carry on as usual.

Alex Mendoza and his uncle David of Gering traveled to businesses and residences in Gering and Scottsbluff to remove snow.

“Today was a slow start for me,” Mendoza said. “I usually start at 4 a.m. so I can take care of my commercials when they open around 8 a.m. and then I go out and do my residential locations.”

As Chanelle Hanger made her way to work, the snow drifts and piles of snow prevented her from turning left from First Avenue in Scottsbluff. Hanger, who recently moved to Scottsbluff from Kentucky, was driving her Chevy Colbat when it became stuck in the snow at the intersection of First Avenue and E. 23rd Street for 30 minutes.

“It’s cold,” she said. “It’s crazy, to be honest with you, seeing this much snow.”

With the help of EJ Gustafson, Hanger made it to Broadway and advised people to stay on the main roads.

“Just stay on the busy, already plowed streets, so this doesn’t happen to you,” Hanger told her.

Some areas of Scotts Bluff County had experienced power outages by Thursday morning. Nebraska Public Power District’s response to power outages would be limited, according to a press release.

NPPD said crews are currently limited in responding to outages due to blizzard conditions in the western Panhandle of the state while the eastern half of the state crews are dealing with closed roadways due to flooding conditions. Restoration efforts would continue but under the current conditions it would be difficult for crews to reach many areas in a timely manner, and those customers affected should remain patient, according to an advisory issued Thursday morning.

“If you don’t have to get out, then don’t get out,” Darmon said. “Staying close to home one more day is not such a bad idea.”

Kasandra Lauder of Scottsbluff spent Thursday morning digging out of her driveway, should she need to travel later.

“I like the snow personally,” she said. “I’m used to this weather, but I’m not use to this (snow drifts). That’s probably why they called it a cyclone.”

The NWS said snow would continue to blow throughout Thursday and drift back into roads, but expected everything to ease up by late Thursday night.

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