A fast-moving wintry storm system brought much of western Nebraska to a standstill Friday evening after whiteout conditions made travel nearly impossible.
The system, expected to affect the area through most of the weekend, also dumped hail on areas in southeast Nebraska, southwest Iowa and northwest Missouri.
Authorities closed westbound Interstate 80 from Grand Island to Wyoming, about 310 miles. The road was closed in both directions from Ogallala to Wyoming. State highways throughout the region were also closed or impassable, and the State Patrol was urging drivers to stay off the roads if at all possible.
The worst area was Kimball to the Interstate 80/76 interchange near Big Springs, a patrol spokesman said. That’s where troopers were focusing their efforts Friday night.
“There is just accidents everywhere and cars are stranded,” said Cody Thomas, spokesman for the Nebraska State Patrol. “There are multiple vehicle accidents in multiple areas.”
“We’re just encouraging people to call *55 if they are stranded,” he said. “The best people that they can contact are our dispatchers.”
Up to golf-ball-size hail fell in parts of southwest Iowa, southeastern Nebraska and northwest Missouri as storms blew through.
A rain and snow mix started in early afternoon in North Platte, where 8 inches of snow is predicted to fall overnight and into the morning. North and west of North Platte — in Ogallala, Arthur, Hyannis — conditions were worse, National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Buttler said.
“It’s just nasty out here. Real nasty. Travel? I wouldn’t even try it.”
“If you have to travel, allow yourself just lots of extra time. I would recommend you pack a winter survival kit to be perfectly honest.”
“Every road out of North Platte is closed now. Pretty much every road west of Highway 83 out to the northwest panhandle is either closed or blocked.”
When people in western and north central Nebraska woke up Saturday morning, most of the snow had tapered off, Buttler said, though it still may be coming down east of North Platte. Once snow stops falling, conditions should rapidly improve.
Hotels in North Platte reported an influx of guests who had to cut trips short. At 7:30 p.m., the Quality Inn and Suites was nearly booked, with only three rooms left. The local Holiday Inn Express also said they were nearly booked.
Meanwhile, hundreds of other travelers were stranded. Keystone Lemoyne Fire and Rescue said in a Facebook post that multiple rescue units had been called in to Ogallala to assist more than 300 motorists.
Buttler said a blizzard warning isn’t too uncommon for the area, even in April
“But we are all getting pretty sick of winter,” he said.
Lighter amounts of snow are forecast for the Nebraska City area, where forecasters expect about an inch of snow to fall.