Blizzard warnings brushed up against Minneapolis, while also including Omaha and Sioux City, Iowa. That’s where the most significant overlap of light to moderate snow and winds gusting to 50 mph could result in blizzard conditions, with visibilities below a quarter-mile.
Omaha recorded a 55 mph gust in the 8 a.m. hour Friday, with strong winds since midafternoon Thursday. Snow had been reported continuously since 7 p.m. Thursday, but blizzard criteria hadn’t been met yet, since visibilities had remained a bit too high. Conditions were expected to gradually improve in the Corn Belt and Upper Midwest later Friday, though strong winds will persist through the evening.
In Iowa, Interstate 235 was shut down for a time in Des Moines but had since been reopened, while Interstate 80 westbound was blocked because of a crash.
The Iowa Department of Transportation tweeted, “the visibility on roads in [southwest] Iowa is nearly zero in many locations,” urging motorists to “please … not travel if it’s not absolutely necessary.”
Conditions were equally bad across the Missouri River in Nebraska, where Interstate 80 westbound was again closed east of Grand Island. Numerous wind gusts in south-central and southeastern Nebraska were clocked between 45 and 60 mph. The entire Cornhusker State was under a high wind warning.
At 11 a.m. Central time, the worst weather was concentrated in a band of light to moderate snow in the western quarter of Iowa and eastern third of Nebraska.
Snow totals associated with the blizzard were low in comparison with recent winter storms to strike the Midwest and the Plains. In fact, most of eastern Nebraska and areas east of the James Valley in South Dakota were only looking at totals between one and three inches. The issue isn’t the snow, but rather the combination of snow and wind.
“Don’t be fooled by low snow totals,” warned the National Weather Service in Omaha. “The winds gusting to 60 mph could cause whiteout conditions and make for extremely dangerous travel.”
Farther east in north-central Iowa and southeastern Minnesota, three to five inches were anticipated with localized tallies around seven inches. Most of the snow had already fallen, with only an inch or two left to go. Some patchy freezing mist or drizzle may develop during the evening.
Minneapolis had picked up 2.9 inches by 6 a.m.
The storm had already unleashed furious winds across much of the West earlier this week, including a gust to 105 mph Wednesday afternoon in Laramie, Wyo. A gust to 107 mph was measured just southeast of Salt Lake City in the Wasatch Mountains.
Structural damage was even noted in parts of Montana, where forecasters at the Weather Service office in Great Falls witnessed a toppled silo careening through fields adjacent to their building. In Glasgow, launching a weather balloon into strong winds Wednesday evening proved highly challenging.
A number of 65 to 85 mph wind gusts were recorded in the foothills and valleys of Montana and Wyoming, with sporadic gusts of 90 to 100 mph in the high elevations.
Strong winds were still ongoing along the Front Range of the Rockies. Limon, Colo. reported a gust to 72 mph, along with considerable blowing dust reducing visibilities below a half-mile.
The same storm system can even be traced back to an early-week deluge that dropped up to 10 inches of rain in the Pacific Northwest. The instigating low pressure helped yank an “atmospheric river” of moisture from the deep tropics ashore, the resultant meteorological fire hose causing flooding and mudslides.
The storm will temper some before shuttling a line of downpours into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast along a cold front overnight Friday, with a few one- to two-inch rain totals in southeast New England inside of Interstate 495. The Champlain Valley of New York and Vermont, northern New Hampshire and western Maine can all expect some accumulating snow, with localized amounts to 10 inches.