Officials are bracing for a March storm arriving Saturday that could bring snowfall totals to the western Panhandle not seen for about two decades.
Cliff Cole, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in North Platte, said snowfall may reach 18 inches or more in spots such as Chadron, Scottsbluff and Kimball, while the northwest Sand Hills area may see about 10 inches.
Cole said the foot and a half of snow expected on the western border of Nebraska would be the highest amount in roughly 20 years.
Precipitation is expected to start Saturday afternoon, and Cole advised people to be prepared by noon. The storm will be slow-moving and spread out over 12 to 24 hours — perhaps even longer, he said.
“Saturday night into Sunday, there will be some blowing snow. It’ll be heavy, wet snow,” Cole said. “That’ll lead to significant drifting in some areas.”
Eastern Nebraska is likely to be spared the snow, with 2 to 3 inches of rain expected from Saturday to Sunday night. Forecasters said snow is possible in the northeastern part of the state late Sunday afternoon into Monday morning.
Law enforcement and roads officials advised residents to the west to stay home unless they must travel and said to expect closures and deteriorating conditions.
Moe Jamshidi, the acting director of the Nebraska Department of Transportation, said on a press call that all plows are ready and “everybody’s waiting to get started.”
Nebraska State Patrol Col. John Bolduc said if people do need to travel, they should have a winter survival kit with warm clothes, blankets, food, water, gravel, a shovel and other items.
“The first determination that you need to make is whether to travel, whether or not to even make the trip,” he said. “If travel is not necessary, just refrain from doing so, so that you do not become stranded.”
Bolduc said many people may be thinking of March 2019, when a historic bomb cyclone and ensuing blizzard hit the area. Paired with a record-setting snowy winter and still-frozen ground, that storm caused devastating flooding across the state — the worst in 50 years.
But Bryan Tuma, assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, said conditions are better now than two years ago, and officials are not alarmed at the risk of widespread flooding.
Tuma said that because of recent warm temperatures, snowpack from the winter is “essentially gone” in most areas, with the runoff already funneled through streams and rivers. The state’s soil has capacity to absorb some moisture, unlike in 2019, when significant runoff occurred, he said.
He didn’t dismiss the possibility that some flooding could occur in the coming days, especially with melting snow from the increased snowfall in Wyoming, but Tuma dismissed a likelihood of large flooding events.
The immediate concern is driving conditions, and both Tuma and Cole warned of icy roads because of freezing drizzle and high winds.
Tuma said all emergency managers have participated in the spring storm briefings with weather service meteorologists recently.
“We’ll continue to monitor this event as it unfolds over the weekend,” he said.