Communities are reeling from flooding due to a winter storm that dumped rain and snow across the state, causing rivers and creeks to rise.
Multiple areas of Howard County were hit hard by the storm that began Wednesday morning, dropping rain that turned to snow and blizzard conditions overnight and continuing into Thursday.
“My biggest-hit town, well, they’re all hit because people have water in basements all over, but Dannebrog is still sitting with about 6 feet of water on their main street,” Howard County Emergency Manager Michelle Woiltalewicz said Thursday morning.
The community, which is about 23 miles northwest of Grand Island, had a voluntary evacuation Wednesday night. A shelter was opened in Boelus and eight individuals left their homes to stay there. Woiltalewicz said other people also evacuated homes to stay with family and friends as nearby rivers and creeks began to swell.
“Oak Creek, which runs through Dannebrog, was one that the water just came in massive amounts,” she said.
The storm, which produced a rare phenomenon called a bomb cyclone, brought more than 2 inches of rain to some areas before turning into snow early Thursday morning. Strong winds created blizzard conditions, making travel difficult to impossible in parts of the state. Some portions of the interstate were closed. Flooding was a main concern with the storm.
Several county roads and bridges in Howard County have been affected.
“Last I knew, we had 90 miles of country roads that have been impacted, with over 30-some bridges. That’s damage to bridges. I don’t know the extent yet,” Woiltalewicz said.
Efforts were underway prior to the storm hitting to prevent flooding. Villagers and members of the fire department bagged sand most of Wednesday, but that effort was abandoned.
“The water just came so much, so fast, so high they decided to go with rescue efforts and get people out if they could,” Woiltalewicz said.
Flooding was also reported in other parts of the county, including in Elba and the west side of St. Paul.
Nebraska State Patrol troopers worked overnight Wednesday and into the morning with local officials and Nebraska Game and Parks officers on water rescues, according to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. The State Patrol deployed two light armored vehicles to assist with water rescue in north central and northeast Nebraska.
Several shelters were opened in communities for people who have been displaced from their homes, including in North Loup, Fremont, Norfolk and Randolph, as well as in western Iowa and Kansas. Additional shelters are expected to be open across the state. More than 100 people have reportedly sought shelter provided by the Red Cross and other partners.
Valley County experienced extensive flooding. Diversion dams were threatened, including one in Ord.
“The Ord dam is still there. It did not go. Water was just running out the emergency spillway, which it is designed to do,” Valley County Sheriff Casey Hurlburt said Thursday afternoon.
The dam is in the southeast corner of Ord. Excess water continued along the North Loup River toward the cities of North Loup, Scotia and St. Paul. Some residents along the river and on the north side of North Loup were evacuated.
Hurlburt said the river water is still running high and fast, but it had receded by Thursday afternoon. Portions of Highway 70 in Arcadia and Highway 11 around North Loup and Scotia were closed off due to flooding.
“The highways are now open, but the county roads are a mess. It’s going to be a long process because there will be a lot of damage,” he said.
Hurlburt called the situation pretty devastating because of the damage done to property and livestock. He lives along the river and said he lost a lot of buildings and that nine of his horses had to be rescued Thursday. Rescuers waded in 4-foot-deep floodwater to get the horses out.
In Hall County, a close eye is being kept on various creeks and rivers.
Hall County Emergency Management Director Jon Rosenlund said Thursday morning that those bodies of water are filled, but there hasn’t been any overarching flooding.
Rosenlund said the county is doing well, but there is localized flooding of some properties because ditches and drainage areas couldn’t handle the precipitation, but those areas are fairly limited. There were no evacuations in the county.
The biggest concern Thursday was dealing with blizzard conditions and getting roads cleared of snow so an assessment can be done to determine if there has been any damage. There had not been any significant damage reported yet.
“We just started the process this morning with first light, so we are going to give it a day until we know for sure,” Rosenlund said.
Grand Island received 2 inches of snow and more than an inch of rain. The temperature peaked at 63 Wednesday before it dropped more than 30 degrees as the storm moved into the area. The temperature was in the 30s Thursday morning.
Strong winds accompanied the storm, producing gusts of more than 60 mph Thursday afternoon.
According to the Nebraska Department of Transportation, westbound Interstate 80 was closed from exit 312 — Grand Island’s western exit — to the Wyoming border. Eastbound Interstate 80 was closed from Ogallala to the Wyoming border.
Eastbound lanes reopened at 7 p.m. Thursday, while westbound lanes opened about an hour later.
Grand Island Streets Superintendent Shannon Callahan said roads were starting to clear off around noon Thursday, but some slick spots remained. She added crews began salting intersections around 10 a.m. and that there was some drifting snow.
“It was way too windy for us to be out salting earlier this morning and the visibility was low,” Callahan said. “Honestly, I don’t know if it would have been any good.”
She added some of the ice trucks were sliding on the roads, but said this is not uncommon.
“When those salt trucks go out, it is always slick; that is just what they deal with,” Callahan said. “When they are fully empty, it helps (prevent sliding), but when they start treating the roads and get lower (loads), they don’t have as much weight.”
She said the streets division did not get any reports of roads being “overly slick” until after 9 a.m. She expected crews to be out until about 3 p.m. Thursday, but said they might have finished sooner due to less traffic with schools not being in session,
Grand Island Police Capt. Jim Duering said both the Eddy Street underpass and Second Street overpass were closed briefly Thursday morning due to road conditions. Both were open by noon.
“On the Second Street overpass, a semi-truck jackknifed there and was the reason for that closure,” Duering said. “The underpass was so slick people couldn’t make it up. So that was closed until it could get salted.”
Duering said there was likely damage to the semi, but no injuries were reported.
The weather outlook for the next few days is dry and warmer, with clearing skies.
“Thankfully, everything is really going to calm down by the weekend,” said Kate Shawkey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hastings.
Wind gusts will decrease Friday, with breezy conditions persisting into the morning, then calm to 5 to 15 mph by late afternoon to early evening. It should be sunny with a high of about 40 Friday. The sun will stick around this weekend, with the temperature increasing into the mid-40s on Saturday and low-50s on Sunday.