April 19, 2024


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Wind, dust drive wildfire in west-central Nebraska; evacuation of town ordered | State and Regional News


West central Nebraska endured a second day of high north-northwest winds and blowing dust Thursday, with a wind-driven wildfire threatening a Furnas County town after sunset.

The region’s highest recorded wind gusts by midafternoon were 71 mph east of McCook and 70 mph north of Broken Bow, both between 11:30 a.m. and noon CT.

A 68 mph gust was recorded in that same time period 4 miles east of North Platte, according to the National Weather Service office at Lee Bird Field.

The Nebraska State Patrol tweeted about 8:30 p.m. that an evacuation order had been issued for Edison, a town of 133 south of the U.S. Highway 6/34-136 junction and southeast of Arapahoe.

Gosper County wildfire

Elwood and Lexington fire departments were fighting a large grass fire in central Gosper County during Thursday afternoon. 

It lay in the path of a fast-spreading grass fire that Elwood and Lexington firefighters engaged Thursday afternoon in central Gosper County, west of the intersection of U.S. 283 and Nebraska Highway 18.

It was already about 2 miles long at 12:32 p.m. CT, according to the weather service.

A spotter then placed the blaze near the intersection of Gosper County roads 739 and 420, about 7 miles west-southwest of Elwood.

Elwood volunteer firefighters, who were first on the scene, paged their Lexington counterparts for mutual aid at 2:21 p.m. Gusts of up to 43 mph appeared to be driving the fire’s path southeast, in the direction of Edison.

The Jim Kelly Field airport in Lexington had recorded a 58 mph gust about an hour earlier. A spotter about 3 miles south of Johnson Lake reported a 56 mph gust there about 10 a.m.

Large plumes of gray, white and black smoke filled the horizon south of Elwood. They were blowing across gravel-surfaced Nebraska 18, which ends at U.S. 283 and was the first area highway closed by the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Closures later spread to U.S. 283 between Elwood and Arapahoe and U.S. 6/34 east of Arapahoe.

The State Patrol said state troopers, Furnas County sheriff’s deputies, emergency management workers and others were assisting in the evacuation of Edison’s residents.

The Nebraska State Patrol urged drivers to be cautious as the wind and dust made travel hazardous on Interstate 80 and other highways.

Wind, dust make travel dangerous, drive wildfire in west central Nebraska

High winds blow dust clouds across Bailey Yard Thursday afternoon in this view from the top of the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center in North Platte.

The patrol posted a Facebook message to drivers on I-80: “Multiple semis have overturned in the wind and blowing dust is causing visibility issues in some areas. Good idea to find a safe place to park for a bit if you’re in a high-profile vehicle.”

One toppled semitrailer truck early Thursday afternoon briefly blocked eastbound I-80 traffic near mile marker 146 just outside Paxton. No one was injured.

In southwest Nebraska, the weather service said visibility was near zero about 1 p.m. on the Veterans Memorial Highway, a non-state road in Hitchcock County about 8 miles west-southwest of Palisade.

Trenton, the Hitchcock County seat, experienced a 62 mph wind gust at 1:18 p.m. Visibility there was about 1 mile at the time, the weather service said.

Another spotter reported about 3:30 p.m. that a Wendy’s Restaurant sign had been blown down in McCook.

A 65 mph gust was recorded 4 miles south of McCook at 10:49 a.m. CT, an hour before the 71 mph gust 2 miles east of the city.

Other top gusts in the region were 64 mph at Imperial; 62 mph at Thedford; 61 mph at Willow Island, between Gothenburg and Cozad; and 60 mph readings west of Sumner and at the Interstate 76 interchange at Julesburg, Colorado.

Relief from the week’s high winds is on its way, according to the weather service office at the North Platte airport.

Top gusts of 45 mph remained possible Thursday night, but winds are expected to slow Friday to sustained speeds of 15 to 20 mph and peak gusts around 30 mph.

Friday’s high should be in the mid-50s, but winds will switch to a southerly direction Saturday and drive temperatures that day into the mid-70s.

Daily highs will be around 60 on Palm Sunday and Monday, warming to the mid-60s Tuesday.

Chances of rain and snow showers then move in, with blustery, chillier conditions returning Wednesday and Thursday. Highs both days should be in the mid-40s.

Brian Neben of the Lexington Clipper-Herald contributed to this report.


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