The thrum of lawnmowers is echoing through neighborhoods. Dandelions have started to pop, and lilacs are hinting at their blossoms.
After a tough, long winter, spring, it seems, is finally here. The long-range forecast underscores the overdue change in seasons. According to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, the odds favor warmer-than-normal weather in Nebraska and Iowa through the end of April.
“We can still get snow, but it looks like we’ve finally made the turn,” said Aaron Mangels, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Hastings.
The warmth is welcome. A harsh end to winter led to the season being considered one of the most severe on record. Nebraska had its eighth-coldest February in 125 years, and Iowa had its 15th-coldest. Although the weather warmed in March, the month still averaged below normal for both states. Worse, March was marked by catastrophic flooding as a result of a midmonth rain on top of snow and ice.
But now, each passing day reduces the likelihood of another snow or drop below freezing. The key to the change, Mangels said, is that the jet stream has begun its seasonal march northward, which — for now — is locking wintry weather to the north.
Historically, the region can get snow into May. Omaha’s latest snow on record occurred May 9, 1945, when 2 inches fell. And after a warm end to April in 2013, Omaha set a record for snowfall in May when 3.1 inches fell on the first two days of the month. In south-central Nebraska, the record is even later — Grand Island received 4.5 inches of snow on May 28, 1947, Mangels said.
Along with the arrival of spring comes a chance for severe weather Wednesday. Spring thunderstorms are forecast to roll across the Midwest, but the area at greatest risk of severe weather is to the south of Nebraska and Iowa.
Scott Evans, a horticulturist at the Douglas-Sarpy County Extension Service, said gardeners still need to show some patience. Technically, Omaha can see frost through Mother’s Day. So tomatoes and other warm-weather plants need to wait until then for planting. Otherwise, a bout of cold weather, even if temperatures don’t drop below freezing, could stunt their growth for the rest of the summer.
For Evans, the phone lines are another good indication that spring is here. People have been calling with typical seasonal questions:
Is it too early to put down crabgrass pre-emergent? Yes, wait another week or so until the ground temperature hits 55 degrees for a couple of days in a row.
What about grub control to prevent Japanese beetles? Wait until late May or early June, depending on the product.
Bagworms? Spraying won’t do any good until the worms emerge from their cocoons. But it’s about time for applications of a ground drench.
Emerald ash borer? Target May 1 as your start date.
“We’re all super-anxious to get outside, but there’s still (a chance of) cool weather ahead,” Evans said.
Rain, thunderstorms expected midweek; it’s too early to say how much of a flood threat system poses
Widespread stormy weather along with soaking rains are expected midweek from eastern Nebraska, Kansas and the Dakotas eastward.
The effect on flooding will depend upon how the rains set up, though the storms are likely to prolong low-land flooding along the Missouri River.
Cathy Zapotocny, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the system is expected to arrive in the Omaha area Tuesday night, ushering in a round of typical spring storms Wednesday afternoon. Rain is possible from Tuesday evening through Thursday, according to the weather service.
As it leaves, the system is expected to be followed by colder air and strong winds Thursday into Friday, she said.
The system could bring a half-inch to 1 inch of rain. Areas where thunderstorms form will get the higher amounts.
The weather service is the agency that forecasts river stages, and those river forecasts aren’t updated to include projected rainfall until storms are closer and the picture is clearer.
Given the potential for wind and severe weather, it makes sense to factor that into your week’s plans, Zapotocny said: Think about parking the car under cover Wednesday afternoon and evening, be aware that outdoor objects could get tossed around by strong winds at the end of the week.
Slight changes in the timing and track of the system are possible, and updated forecasts will reflect those changes.