The “Bomb Cyclone,” or the massive storm coming up from the Gulf, is making its presence known through Nebraska.
Severe flooding was hitting much of the state Wednesday, while the Panhandle was hit hard by heavy snow and strong winds.
The storm was expected to dump about an inch and a half of rain on the Grand Island area Wednesday through early Thursday morning.
The rain will then switch to snow in the early morning hours, with added winds causing blizzard-like conditions through noon Thursday, according to Grand Island Emergency Manager Jon Rosenlund.
Rosenlund cautions that flooding will be an issue throughout Thursday, especially in low-lying areas because the ground is already saturated.
Flooding was being experienced in some communities.
In Osceola, there were reports of water in basements of homes Wednesday afternoon.
The Osceola Fire Department enlisted the help of students to ready sandbags to prevent flooding around houses.
Eight students from Osceola High School helped in the effort, starting at 10 a.m.
Principal Dale Maynard said rain fell most of the morning and afternoon resulting in road closures in the Polk County community. That led to the decision to send some students home early.
“We sent some of the kids in the country home just because we were afraid their roads would get washed out. We were getting reports that roads were getting washed out,” he said.
In Wood River, Mayor Greg Cramer said the Highway 11 spur that goes toward Cairo was blocked off for a period of time because of water coming off the fields and across the road.
The street department there barricaded some areas of town and picked up floating trash to prevent it from clogging drains.
Overall, Cramer said the conditions were not too bad.
“It’s running through town and down the ditches. It’s curb to curb running. It’s not up in anybody’s property,” Cramer said.
A flash flood warning was issued by the National Weather Service in Hastings for Valley County at about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. It was reported that there was flooding from an ice jam in Arcadia and along the North Loup River in Ord. Additional flooding was occurring along Mira Creek in North Loup.
This water was expected to travel downstream affecting areas along the Loup River in Greeley, Howard, Nance and Merrick counties.
In Grand Island, street department workers did some preparation work to avoid possible flooding on city streets.
“This morning the guys were going to go out and check catch basins and make sure stuff wasn’t plugged up on the main roads and checking our detention cells,” Street Superintendent Shannon Callahan said Wednesday morning. “We want to make sure there are no ice chunks in front of the inlets and outlets of the detention cells so that they can hold water.”
Flooding is a concern in many areas of the state due to warmer temperatures generating runoff from snow melt. While the winter storm is expected to deliver record levels of snow in the Panhandle it is expected to generate 1 to 3 inches of rainfall in the eastern portions of Nebraska. Frozen ground and high soil saturation levels will allow snow melt and precipitation to run off into rivers and streams which are currently frozen. Significant flooding is possible along the Loup, Platte, Elkhorn and Missouri rivers. Ice jams in several locations may likely worsen flooding.
The predicted blizzard already caused the Nebraska Department of Transportation to close westbound traffic on I-80 at Ogallala Wednesday morning. At 4 p.m., the state shut down westbound lanes on I-80 at Lexington. The DOT said that after I-80 westbound was closed at Ogallala that North Platte was full with truck and vehicle traffic and accommodations were almost full.
In addition to I-80 westbound, U.S. Highway 30 at Lexington also was closed.
Mike Moritz, the warning coordinator meteorologist of the National Weather Service in Hastings, said moisture can’t soak into the ground because it is frozen, so the water will run off wherever it can.
Severe storms were also possible Wednesday, Moritz said.
“This storm is dynamic,” said Moritz. “The risk for severe weather like hail or even a brief weak tornado is pretty low, but we can’t rule it out.”
Moritz said the high risks are flooding and blowing snow.
Because Thursday will bring wind speeds of 60 mph, the Grand Island area is in a winter weather warning through Thursday evening.
“I hope people near creeks and rivers or in low-lying areas are prepared,” Moritz said. “People should be ready to take alternate routes if necessary. This is a unique weather situation and it is important to be prepared.”
The weather conditions will cause travelers grief because Thursday will bring wind and snow.
“The wind will be the major factor in traveling Thursday,” Rosenlund said.
He said that the wind and snow will create a lack of visibility and cautions commuters to drive with care.
Rosenlund added that if people come up on a bridge or road covered completely in water to call local authorities immediately so the roads can be taken care of.
“Our motto is, ‘Turn around, don’t drown,’” said Rosenlund.
For updated information on road and weather conditions, check Nebraska 511 and the National Weather Service of Hastings website.