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Cold and Snowy Winter Reminds Nebraskans Of Worst Storms

Mike Motz, Sun-Telegraph

It has been an unusually cold and snowy winter here in Cheyenne County, compared to the last few winters that have been relatively warm and without much snow. Cheyenne County was hit again last week with yet another snow storm, but thankfully we did not receive the full brunt of the storm in the Sidney area. Snow totals were just about 3-to-5 inches overall, and the lack of high winds kept drifts minimal. But another blast of cold temperatures rolled through the Panhandle, dropping the mercury to well below zero last Wednesday and Thursday, making many Cheyenne County residents wonder, "will this winter never end?"

The forecast for this winter made in the Fall of 2022 stated "Winter will be colder than normal, with the coldest temperatures in early December and late January to mid-February. Both precipitation and snowfall will be above normal. The snowiest periods will be in late November to early December and early to mid-January." That prediction turned out be correct, although understating the snow amounts as being "above normal". That would be like saying for a human, Wilt Chamberlain's height was "above normal".

The first and worst winter blast came on December 12th and 13th of 2022, when a big storm rocked the Panhandle area and much of the midwest. Up to 20 inches of snow fell in our area, and with gusting winds reaching 60 mph at times, snow drifts ranged between two and four feet all over the area. The wind and the cold were unrelenting, causing business and road closures, and local schools shutting down for days. Storms continued to roll in seemingly every week after that, and for a long time a thick layer of snow and ice was ever-present, and each new storm just added on to the ice pack. Now as we enter March, we can hope for a thaw and a return to more mild temperatures. But we also know in this area, March and April often bring additional snowstorms and cold temperatures. This seems like a winter that will never end, but it has been worse in previous years. Here's a look back at some other brutal winters and storms Nebraska and the Cheyenne County area has endured:

"The October Surprise" - 1997

Back on October 24, 1997, climate scholars called this a "200 Year Storm", meaning that a storm like this comes around only every two centuries or so. The Omaha and Lincoln areas were hardest hit, although the storm effected all of Nebraska and its neighboring states. What was so unusual, besides the sheer amount of snow that buried the region, was how early in the season the storm occurred. Although the storm was forecasted, the severity was underestimated, and caught most by surprise. The only good thing that mitigated even more damage and loss of life was that this storm occurred over the weekend, when many could just stay home and watch the winds and the snow take over. It was an unusual Halloween that year, to be sure. However, it wasn't like back in 1991, when a storm on October 31st cancelled Halloween for most residents of eastern Nebraska.

"The Great Storm" - 1975

Between January 10 and 12, Nebraska was hit with a series of snowstorms that buried much of the state as unrelenting precipitation combined with 50 mph winds that gusted up to 90 mph, caused havoc and destruction state-wide. A foot of snow combined with massive drifts from the winds shut much of Nebraska down for days.

And, of course, "The Worst Winter Ever" - 1949

This wasn't so much a storm but an unrelenting series of storms that started in mid-November and did not let up until April of the next year. Mild temperatures preceded the beginning of the storms, taking the state by surprise and off-guard. The storms kept coming, making it difficult to keep roads open or commerce moving. Roads were closed for months, trains stopped running and livestock died by the thousands. President Truman declared a state of emergency in January. On January 29 "Operation Snowbound" was launched, a massive relief effort by the federal government and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to clear the roads and railways. The economic damage was tremendous, with many local farmers and ranchers losing everything and never recovering.

So, remember, when you think that this winter cannot get any worse-it can. And it has been much worse in the past.


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