Record-breaking low temperatures hit Washington County

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Washington County residents awoke Tuesday to record-breaking cold as temperatures plunged well below zero. However, the extreme cold wasn't expected to last.

A record low of 23 degrees below zero was reported at Eppley Airfield at 7:30 a.m. in Omaha. That broke the record for Feb. 16 of 17 below set in 1979.

“It was also the coldest temperature we've had in Omaha since 1996, said Taylor Nicolaisen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Valley.

A temperature of 20 below zero was reported at 4:35 a.m. at the Blair Municipal Airport. Wind chill values made it feel like 33 below. Eppley Airfield reported 40 below, which was the coldest wind chill in 25 years in Omaha.

West of Fort Calhoun, Linda Ingalsbe, a National Weather Service volunteer observer, reported a low of 19 below.

“Generally, it was record cold over the entire area,” Nicolaisen said.

The subzero temperatures, which began this past weekend and enveloped much of the Midwest, caused rolling power outages throughout the Omaha metro area Monday and Tuesday. However, none occurred in Washington County.

Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) and utilities across the region and Midwest participated in the periodic service interruptions at the direction of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), of which OPPD is a member.

In a press release, the SPP, which covers 17 states, reported electricity use had exceeded available generation and an Energy Emergency Alert was declared.

“In our history as a grid operator, this is an unprecedented event and marks the first time SPP has ever had to call for controlled interruptions of service,” said Lanny Nickell, SPP executive vice president and chief operating officer. “It's a last resort that we understand puts a burden on our member utilities and the customers they serve, but it's a step we're consciously taking to precent circumstances from getting worse, which could result in uncontrolled outages of even greater magnitude.”

Washington County residents began to see some relief from the extreme cold on Wednesday as temperatures rose to 12 degrees by noon.

“The numbers will keep slowly climbing,” Nicolaisen said.

Temperatures were expected to reach the upper 20s or low 30s in Blair on Saturday and as high as 40 on Monday.

“It actually looks like it's going to continue that way for a while,” Nicolaisen said. “Early March looks warm and the whole month, on average, is probably going to be a little bit warmer than normal too. Really the worst of it was (Tuesday) morning and it's just going to be slow improvement from here.”

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