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The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the metro area now that a clearer picture of Thursday's storm has emerged from forecasting analysis.
A winter storm means conditions are expected to be dangerous and people should travel only if necessary. The warning is in effect from 6 a.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday.
The latest forecast indicates that the storm could dump 8 to 10 inches of snow in the Omaha metro area and possibly more in the Lincoln area.
Light snow is expected to begin early Thursday, perhaps enough for a light accumulation by sunrise.
However, Thursday morning temperatures could be low enough that even a light snow would turn streets slick, said Rick Chermok, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The snow is forecast to pick up in intensity as the morning wears on. Snowfall rates are expected to be heavy at times on Thursday, and the weather service is forecasting a treacherous Thursday evening commute.
East winds of 15 mph to 25 mph will cause some blowing and drifting Thursday morning, especially in open areas.
Winds are expected to diminish Thursday night, and the snow by Friday morning, so that should help road crews
Farther west, along Interstate 80, problems are expected to begin earlier and be much more severe.
The Weather Service in central Nebraska reports that travel could become impossible late Wednesday into Thursday. The central part of the state could see 9 to 14 inches of snow, with pockets of heavier amounts. There may even be freezing drizzle south of U.S. Highway 6.
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A blizzard or just breezy?
Forecasts by AccuWeather Inc. and the National Weather Service disagree on whether Thursday's snowstorm is likely to create blizzard-like conditions; AccuWeather projects that winds will get strong enough to whip up the snow, while the National Weather Service says that's unlikely.
According to AccuWeather, the storm will create problems in Denver as it descends from the Rockies and moves across the Plains.
"As the storm progresses farther east, howling winds and driving snow will bring blizzard conditions to places from Goodland, Kan., to Grand Island and Omaha, Neb., Huron and Sioux Falls, S.D., and Des Moines, Iowa, by Thursday," according to AccuWeather.
By contrast, the National Weather Service is classifying Thursday's winds as "breezy," which means speeds of 15 mph to 25 mph - not strong enough to constitute a blizzard. For a blizzard to occur, the wind must gust frequently or relatively continuously at 35 mph or greater for at least three hours. And, of course, wind-whipped snow must reduce visibility to less than one-quarter of a mile.
Becky Kern, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Valley, said forecast wind speeds aren't strong enough to create blizzard conditions. On the other hand, periods of intense snow could obscure visibility and slow efforts to clear roads.
"The winds aren't screaming blizzard right now; what this storm system is screaming is heavy snow," she said.
Travel likely to bog down
Travel across the region will become difficult Wednesday night into Thursday, meteorologists agree, with problems beginning in the west and moving east.
Conditions are likely to begin deteriorating across Interstate 80 Wednesday night, said Mike Moritz, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hastings.
Much of northern Missouri could see an icy mix of weather Thursday, making travel equally treacherous there, according to AccuWeather Inc., The World-Herald's private weather consultant.
Kansas City could be spared the worst of the storm if a dry slot develops there as forecast, said Alex Sosnowski, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc.
Storm's path explained
Current conditions and forecast