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Blast of powerful winds and dangerous cold will hit Omaha this week

January 28, 2019

Powerful winds and life-threatening cold descend into the central U.S. this week, with meteorologists advising the public to make plans.

Problems begin early Monday with incredibly strong northwest winds that have the potential to topple high-profile, lightweight vehicles and down power lines. Below zero wind chills will last from Monday morning through Thursday morning, making conditions hazardous for pets and people.

By Wednesday morning, brutally cold weather could possibly prompt a wave of school closings in areas not already affected by a winter storm sweeping across the northern U.S.

Here is a breakdown of the upcoming week, according to the National Weather Service and AccuWeather, The World-Herald’s weather consultant:

Monday: By daybreak, northwest winds could be gusting to almost 50 mph between Omaha and Lincoln. Farther north across Nebraska, gusts could reach 60 mph. With winds out of the northwest, vehicles traveling east and west are especially vulnerable to being pushed around, the weather service said. In Omaha, the worst of the winds will occur in the morning, but the entire day is forecast to be gusty, with below-zero wind chills. Temperatures will top out around 10 degrees in Omaha, maybe a little higher, during the daylight hours. There’s a slight chance of snow all day. Blizzard conditions are possible from the Dakotas across Minnesota and Wisconsin and into Michigan. Northern Iowa is likely to catch the edge of this winter storm, so blowing and drifting snow could make travel treacherous there, too.

Monday night: Winds will die down in Omaha, but temperatures will continue to drop. No new snow. Temperatures will hover between 5 and 10 degrees, with wind chills generally in the single digits below zero.

Tuesday: Another windy day in Omaha, but not as bad as Monday. North, northwest winds are forecast to gust to 30 mph in the Omaha area. Because of single-digit temperatures, wind chills between minus 5 degrees and minus 15 degrees are forecast.

Tuesday night: Strong winds will continue well after dark, dying down after midnight. Because of the cold and the winds, wind chills could drop to minus 20 or worse Tuesday evening.

Wednesday: The coldest day of the week. In the metro area, the temperature at daybreak could be minus 15 degrees, and wind chills could be in excess of minus 30 degrees. The daytime high may not climb above zero, and wind chills might not improve much beyond minus 15 degrees. This is the day most likely to see cold-related school closings, said Matthew Green, a meteorologist at AccuWeather. “With the wind chill being what it is, in a short time, frostbite and hypothermia could set in,” he said. While schools in the metro area don’t have a strict threshold for canceling classes because of cold conditions, a rule of thumb in years past for the Omaha Public Schools has been to consider closing on days when a sustained wind chill of minus 20 or lower is expected.

Wednesday night: An improvement arrives. The night will start out cold, with temperatures mostly below zero and wind chills also below zero. But winds are forecast to shift to the south Wednesday night, ushering in warmer, more normal winter weather.

Thursday through Saturday: The warmup. Highs on Thursday possibly in the 20s, on Friday in the 30s and on Saturday in the 40s.

“We’re getting an Arctic invasion, but it’s going to be rather quick-moving,” Green said. “It does not seem to linger.”

The culprit is a polar vortex, which happens when a funnel of polar air, from deep in the heart of the Arctic, breaks loose and races south.

For some parts of the central U.S., notably in the Chicago area, this week is expected to usher in the coldest weather in 25 years, Green said. But Omaha experienced lower temperatures in January 2018 than are forecast this week, he said. AccuWeather is projecting a low of minus 15 degrees on Wednesday morning. A year ago, the metro area saw lows of minus 16 on Jan. 2 and minus 20 on Jan. 1.

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