WINTER WEATHER

This winter, which was so slow to rev up, has packed nearly all its punch in the weeks since Christmas. After getting only a third of its normal amount of snow by Christmas Eve, Omaha has since received enough snow that the city is running ahead of the 26.4 inches it averages in an entire winter. So far this winter, Omaha has received 27.2 inches of snow, and with plenty of time for more flakes to fall, the city is far ahead of the 17.4 inches it usually gets by this date.

For the purposes of tabulating snow totals, "winter" extends beyond the official calendar, counting, for example, the 1.9 inches that fell on the last day of November 2015.

The 26.4 inches that Omaha averages for an entire season takes into account any snow that falls from September through May — the earliest and latest months the metro area gets snow.

This winter's intense rounds of snow started with the surprise Christmas Eve snowstorm that dumped 7 inches — a daily record that snarled traffic and caused headaches. Other significant snows since Christmas Eve include:

Monday, Dec. 28: Omaha was under a winter storm warning, and metro-area communities declared a snow emergency as 4.2 inches fell. The onset of snow coincided with the morning rush hour, creating headaches for drivers. The only good news: School was not in session, so fewer vehicles were on the roads.

Tuesday, Jan. 19: This storm brought 4.2 inches and coincided with that morning's commute. A six-block stretch of westbound

West Dodge Road was closed over the noon hour after many drivers couldn't make it up the hill to 90th Street. Complaints from drivers poured in.

Tuesday, Feb. 2: This storm generated a blizzard across central Nebraska and prompted Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert to ask that people avoid traveling, if possible. Like the other storms, it coincided with what would have been the morning commute, had traffic volume been normal. The city declared a snow emergency and school was canceled. Omaha's official snowfall total, recorded at Eppley Airfield, was 4.9 inches, but areas north and west of the metro area got much more.

Since the Christmas Eve storm, Omahans have been looking at snow-covered ground most days. Not including Thursday, at least an inch of snow has covered the ground for 31 of the past 48 days.

That's a sharp contrast to the previous two winters, which had far-below-average snowfall; that may be one reason this winter seems so tough to some people.

Forecasters say it's impossible to predict where this winter will land in terms of the final snowfall tally. The forecast through the end of the month favors warmer-than-average weather and mixed chances for precipitation.

By this time last year, all significant snow had ended. Outside of a dusting here and there, the 2.9 inches that fell Feb. 4, 2015, was Omaha's final snow for the season.

Omahan Kurt Goetzinger is ready to be done with the snow. Goetzinger fights cabin fever with long walks — around town or hiking in area state parks. This winter, the ice-packed snow has made that a little too tricky, he said. Even in town, people haven't kept their walks clear, he said.

"Mild through mid-December followed by weeks of misery" was how Goetzinger described this winter.

Technically, this winter in the Midlands has been a mild one, based on a new ranking system devised by meteorologists and climatologists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, National Weather Service and elsewhere.

Barbara Mayes, the National Weather Service meteorologist who helped design the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, said unusually warm weather is the chief reason this winter earns that ranking. Omaha's average temperature is running about 5 degrees above average, according to the weather service.

"We have not had a prolonged and sustained cold period," Mayes said.

The city would have seen more snow if December hadn't been so warm — record rains fell twice that month. Those rains continue to have an effect, though, on Omaha drivers.

The rain saturated the ground, setting the stage for the heaving that accompanies the freeze-thaw cycle and creates potholes, said Austin Rowser, Omaha street maintenance engineer. When Omaha crews aren't plowing streets, they're patching potholes.

"It's been a difficult winter," he said. "Our crews haven't had a break."

Contact the writer: 402-444-1102, nancy.gaarder@owh.com

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