The freakish mix of weather striking the Midlands this week was the result of a classic spring storm amped up by an Arctic front.
Cliff Cole, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said one of the most unusual aspects of this storm was the Arctic front that slid under warm, moist air moving in from the south.
As a result, in some areas of the Midlands, thunderstorms were occurring thousands of feet above the surface, even though ground-level temperatures were in the teens and 20s, he said.
“We don't see that sort of thing very often,” he said. “It's rare.”
That helps explain, he said, unusual accumulations of sleet, an inch or two in some areas, and freezing rain, up to an inch in other areas.
The storm, which arrived Monday in western Nebraska, continued to cause problems Wednesday night and was expected to move out of the region today.
As it heads east, it has been causing problems in other parts of the country, including more freezing rain, heavy snow, flooding and tornadoes.
Chris Ford, operations and maintenance manager for the Nebraska Department of Roads in the Panhandle, described the difficult conditions rescuing stranded motorists during the storm.
In some cases, motorists drove around barricaded roads, he said, then slid into ditches either because snow obscured the line between the road and ditch or because wind-whipped snow made visibility impossible.
What surprised Ford was the number of people who took children into the storm or who traveled themselves without adequate clothing, emergency provisions or sufficient fuel.
One person died. In some cases, roads officials or law officers had to rescue people who ran out of gas.
“The visibility was just crummy,” he said. “In some cases you couldn't see beyond the hood of your car to know if you were on the road.”
In one situation, cars became stalled behind a jackknifed semitrailer truck on a rural highway. Plow crews and the State Patrol closed the highway and escorted the vehicles, by convoy, back to safety.
“There was just a lack of preparedness — and this storm was forecast at least a week in advance,” Ford said. “I can't believe you would travel in a remote area without adequate fuel and clothing.”
Here are some of the Midlands extremes from the week:
» Heavy snow: 15 to 20 inches in the northern Nebraska Panhandle, with 20 inches reported at Chadron.
» Record snowfall: 7.4 inches at Scottsbluff, topping the previous April 9 record of 4 inches in 1953; 5.1 inches in Valentine, compared with the previous high of 4.3 inches in 1913.
» All-time snowiest day for Rapid City, S.D.: 20 inches Tuesday; previous high, 18 inches on April 22, 2001.
» Freezing rain: one-third to one-half inch in O'Neill and northeast Nebraska, greater accumulations in southeast South Dakota and southwest Minnesota.
» Hail: The Omaha area was one of two in the United States hammered Tuesday by large hail. The other was north Texas.
Golf-ball-size and slightly larger hail broke skylights, damaged siding and beat up cars and trucks along a corridor of western Sarpy and Douglas Counties. Hail occurred about 8:30 p.m.
» 100 mph straightline winds from a downburst derailed an empty coal train and left a 24-mile-long, 1½-mile-wide trail of damage from Schuyler through North Bend to Fremont.
» Extreme swings in temperature: Monday's high of 75 in Stapleton, Neb., was followed by a low Tuesday morning of 17.
» Record cold: A handful of cities set or matched records for the coldest April 9 night and/or coldest April 9 day, including Scottsbluff, Alliance, Chadron and Valentine in Nebraska and Rapid City, S.D.
» Tornado reports: A land spout was reported Monday near Benkelman, Neb., with grain bins and center-pivots damaged.
» Frozen birds fall from sky: According to the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, turkey vultures coated in ice fell from the sky Tuesday in one Sioux Falls, S.D., neighborhood.
Local minister Adam Weber said one vulture appeared to have died when it hit the roof of his home. Another spent the day dazed and thawing out on his deck.
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