Fireworks bring in New Year in Omaha, just a little late

January 6, 2019

An exceptionally mild January evening helped draw more than 20,000 people — one of the largest crowds ever — to the Gene Leahy Mall area Saturday evening to watch a “New Year’s Eve” fireworks show.

Thousands more found viewing spots throughout downtown Omaha and across the Missouri River in Council Bluffs for the New Year’s Eve Fireworks Spectacular, which was rescheduled because of strong winds on New Year’s Eve.

Traffic was gridlocked through much of the downtown area as people poured in.

What a difference in weather a few extra days made: about 20 degrees in temperature and about 25 mph in wind speeds, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures were in the upper 30s at the show’s 7 p.m. start, with a slight northerly wind, according to the weather service. Compare that with New Year’s Eve temps in the teens, winds gusting to 30 mph and wind chill readings dipping to about zero.

Many people had made to their way to the mall about an hour before the fireworks started. That’s unusual, said Vic Gutman, executive director of the Holiday Lights Festival, which has multiple events during the holiday season, including the fireworks show.

On a typical, cold New Year’s Eve, people show up about 10 minutes before the show starts, he said.

Stefanie Mendoza of Omaha said she and her family would have ventured out no matter the weather.

“Fireworks are our favorite,” Mendoza said.

This was her first time to the mall for the New Year’s Eve fireworks, and she watched with daughters Liliana, 6, and Mia, 7; son Marcos, 5 months; niece Joslynn, 6; mother-in-law, Mary Becerra, also of Omaha, and some friends.

Becerra said she has watched a few of the city’s annual fireworks displays. But last year she chose to watch from the warmth of the W. Dale Clark Library.

Scott and Marjorie Shreve were among those who swayed and sang along to the 1960s music blasted from outdoor speakers. The sky’s colorful bursts of light were choreographed to the tunes, including “Twist and Shout,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Louie Louie.”

They were joined by their daughter, Mackenzie, who was visiting from India, and her friends.

The Shreves, too, would have gone in cold or warm weather, they said, because they live just two blocks from the mall.

“This is why we moved downtown” from the suburbs, Scott Shreve said, “to be able to enjoy all the wonderful events downtown.”

Saturday’s fireworks, however, were the last for the Gene Leahy Mall until a planned face-lift is completed, officials have said. The site for the next New Year’s Eve show has not yet been determined.

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