OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Omaha residents who hunkered down for a big storm to start the new year Saturday saw forecasts predicting snow accumulations of three to seven inches.
Instead, the storm dropped an inch and a half of snow on the Elkhorn area, and two and a half inches on Eppley Airfield. This straddled Omaha’s two-inch trigger for plowing its side streets.
That left the city with a decision: Plow the city’s residential streets. Or don’t. In the end, the city stood pat. But who made the decision and why?
Mayor Jean Stothert’s spokeswoman, Carrie Murphy, told 3 News Now Investigators on Monday that Public Works director Bob Stubbe and his streets team made the call.
She says they decide based on snowfall totals measured at five Public Works road-maintenance yards in all corners of the city, from Elkhorn to South Omaha.
None of the yards measured more than two inches of snow on Saturday, Stubbe said. The city made its decision by midday, he said, before Eppley had recorded its 2.5-inch total.
“Based on the time we were getting, moving our forces into the field, we made a determination that the five district yards didn’t warrant sending in the contractors,” he said.
One reason for the city’s wider swings in snow totals this weekend was drier than normal snow in Omaha, 3 News Now meteorologist Mark Stitz said. Slight changes in the amount of moisture led to wider variances, he said.
Stubbe says the dry cold and windy conditions also led to a lot of drifting snow that blew off local streets and onto nearby curbs and yards.
Omaha used to require four inches of snowfall to plow residential streets. The city changed to two inches of snow in 2016, after years of public complaints.
Given the forecast for last Saturday, Public Works notified all 25 of the private contractors whose employees drive more than 150 pickups with plows to be ready.
Stubbe says they ended up not needing them, and that the decision not to plow side streets saved city taxpayers about $250,000. So was a little white-stuff inconvenience worth it?
Public Works says it got few complaints about the decision not to plow side streets. City Council members 3 News Now contacted for this story did not return calls seeking word of complaints.
The city says it got more complaints last weekend about unexpected freezing fog. Public Works says it will continue to make judgment calls on plowing based on the best information it has.
It did end up salting residential streets, particularly near stop signs and on hills, Stubbe said.
A quick drive around Omaha Monday afternoon showed a lot of melting in local neighborhoods. Warmer temperatures Tuesday should help get rid of much of the rest.
“Mother Nature, after the storm event, you know, you look and say and people can get around,” Stubbe said.