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Omaha Snow: What Happened?

Warm air and a dry slot
Posted at 11:05 AM, Jan 19, 2023

The forecast for the winter storm on Wednesday, January 18, 2023 was quite the bust for the Omaha metro. Not for everywhere, but for Omaha it was disappointing to say the least. We originally forecasted 5-8 inches of snow from the storm, and things started out pretty strong! The snow started to fall around noon and began with some beautiful, big snowflakes. This snowfall reduced visibility across the area and quickly created slick spots out on the roads.

Unfortunately, our strong start was just merely a tease. Some warm air in the upper atmosphere reached into the area; just in time to hinder our big snow chances. Take a look at the graphic below. It does a great job explaining our different types of precipitation.

Precipitation Type Explainer.png

Imagine Omaha was basically right the the middle of the purple sleet text. That's where we were sitting yesterday. Warm air high above us, heated up the snowflakes enough to melt them as they fell through the sky. Closer to the surface, where our temperatures were cooler, is where it turned into ice pellets. Ice pellets are also known as sleet. At times, there wasn't even enough cold air to freeze the rain into sleet before it reached the ground, producing rain and freezing rain. We saw a mixture of freezing rain and sleet for the vast majority of the afternoon, severely cutting down our snow totals.

But why did this happen in the first place? Why didn't we know about the warm air ahead of time?

Sometimes, we can't see pockets of warm air until it's near or over us. One way we're able to measure temperatures throughout the atmosphere is with a weather balloon. Our weather instrument, or radiosonde, measures multiple parameters as it floats through the sky. One major component that it measures is the temperature! These balloons are typically only released twice a day at our local NWS Office. So, in Valley, NE.

On top of the upper air warmth, we dealt with a dry slot late in the afternoon. A dry slot is a little bit of jargon to explain a section of dry air spinning around the moisture in a low pressure system. These two factors alone were the main reason that Omaha didn't see the original forecast of 5-8."

I will say that not all of our snow forecast was a complete bust. Places north and northwest of Omaha, did actually see snow totals we were expecting.

Snow Reports 2 Columns.png
Snow Reports 2 Columns B.png

In looking at the snow reports above, keep in mind these are still a tad preliminary. Some places saw a little more snow Thursday morning and not all of these numbers reflect those brief snow showers.

Places north of I-80 and north of the Omaha metro actually saw the numbers we were expecting and forecasted for. Even some places south of the I-80 corridor weren't far off in their totals and our forecast. It was quite the shame that it wasn't the same story for the Omaha metro. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's disappointed and left waiting for our next big snowstorm.