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Spring blizzard strands travelers in western Nebraska

By Nelson Lampe

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 15 2011 10:01 a.m. MDT

OMAHA, Neb. — An unusual spring blizzard has stranded dozens of travelers and forced road closures in western Nebraska, officials said Friday.

Keith County dispatcher Neil Johnson said many vehicles were stuck on Interstate 80 between Ogallala and Paxton and that other motorists were stranded to the north on Nebraska highways 2 and 92. Johnson said he hadn't received reports of medical emergencies.

He also said road construction along I-80 may have contributed to the weather-related problems.

Nebraska Roads Department spokeswoman Mary Jo Oie said the thick, heavy snow was hampering road-clearing efforts on the interstate and elsewhere.

She said the travel tie-up began late Thursday afternoon when two semitrailers collided west of Paxton. Then the storm struck and stranded several vehicles already snarled by the accident, Oie said.

"It will take some time to get everybody pulled out," she said. "We're hoping to have the interstate reopened this afternoon."

In a news release, Nebraska State Patrol Capt. Jim Parish said several dozen vehicles remained stuck in the 12-mile-long construction zone between Paxton and Ogallala. Parish said motorists should avoid that section of the interstate.

"We have traffic backing up at interstate closure points both east and west, and, basically, they have nowhere to go," Parish said.

The Roads Department said the interstate was closed from Sidney in Nebraska's Panhandle east to North Platte — a distance of about 120 miles.

Warnings for hazardous conditions were in effect for the western half of the state.

National Weather Service meteorologist John Springer said wind gusts of up to 45 mph were whipping up the snow.

Six inches of snow was reported Friday morning in the Panhandle's Garden County, Springer said. To the east, 5 inches was recorded near the weather service office at the North Platte airport. Some drifts had reached 3 feet deep.

He called the spring blizzard "an exceptional event."

"We don't get them very often this time of year," Springer said.

A blizzard warning was expected to expire by 7 p.m. Friday.

Warmer weather was forecast for western Nebraska on Saturday, but Springer said he doesn't expect the temperature to reach 70 degrees for at least a few days.

Rain was expected to continue Friday in the Lincoln and Omaha area. But the weather service said rain could turn to snow later Friday north of a line east from Columbus to Wayne in northeast Nebraska.

Winds ranging from 20 to 35 mph were expected as well.

Oie said rain and runoff were covering a roadway crossover at a construction project on I-80 east of Lincoln near the weigh stations. Travelers were urged to slow down.

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