Nebraskans like to say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. It’ll change.”
This adage rings true when discussing the day-to-day highs, lows and in-betweens of temperatures and precipitation on the Great Plains. When traveling throughout the Cornhusker State, it’s always a good idea to keep one eye on the local weather forecast and the other on the western horizon – notorious for spectacular sunsets as well as approaching weather fronts. Mother Nature dials up destructive weather at times, but with a little preparation and planning, the beauty of Nebraska can be enjoyed in all four seasons.
Located geographically in the center of the United States and encompassing more than 77,000 square miles of sweeping plains, Nebraska’s waves come in the form of prairie grasses rippling in persistent breezes. The state is divided into two climates – the more humid east and the semi-arid west. The differences between the two regions are dramatic. The state’s largest city, Omaha, lies on the eastern border with Iowa and receives an average of 30 inches of precipitation a year. Scottsbluff, not far from the Wyoming border in the state’s panhandle in the west, receives less than 16 inches.
Nebraska’s seasons pass in sync with the seeds our farmers sow into the ground. As the state thaws with milder temperatures and rain showers each spring, tiny green leaves of soybeans emerge and fledge into purple-flowered plants. Average spring and early-summer temperatures range from lows in the 30s to highs in the 60s in March and April, with warming to the 50-80s range by May and June. Omaha averages about 2-4 inches of rain per month while accumulations in Scottsbluff are generally between 1 and 2 inches. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the spring, and tornadoes are most likely to spin up between March and June.
Hot, humid summers ripen ears of corn and propel their stalks towards the sky so fast some swear you actually can hear them grow. Afternoon and evening thunderstorms often bring a break in humidity as well as massive blooms of wildflowers and rainbows that stretch across the sky. Average summer temperatures range from the low 60s to the high 80s. July usually ranks as the hottest month and days with 95 percent humidity, and 95 degree temps are not uncommon. During summer, Omaha averages about 3 inches of rain per month while Scottsbluff averages about an inch per month. With the summer heat comes opportunities to enjoy Nebraska’s many lakes and rivers. You will also see the ripening of the wheat in the western part of the state.
Fall ushers in cooler temperatures, high school and college football games, golden corn fields and the constant hum of combines harvesting the bounty of another growing season. Average temperatures range widely between 30 and 60 degrees in October and November with lows dipping down into the teens by December with highs in the 30s. Precipitation-wise, Omaha averages 1 to 2 inches of rain per month while accumulations often drop under an inch per month in Scottsbluff. The state’s first measurable snowfall can occur early in fall, but is more common in November or December.
Winter forces some plants and animals into dormant states, but most species of Nebraskans bundle up and continue to thrive amid falling snow and temperatures at the end of the year. Average temperatures range from lows around 10 degrees to highs in the 40s during winters in Nebraska. January is historically the coldest month of the year and bitter-cold days of sub-zero temperatures and wind chill do occur. Generally speaking, the lion’s share of the state’s annual snowfall occurs during winter. Omaha averages 26 inches of snow every year while Scottsbluff averages 43 inches.
Navigating the extremes of Nebraska’s seasons requires some prior planning and the awareness of potential threats like a spring tornado or a winter ice storm. Local news outlets and the National Weather Service are often the best resources for predicting when and where these events may occur and how to seek shelter.
For specific information on road conditions year-round, travelers can tap into two resources maintained by the Nebraska Department of Roads. The department’s website, 511.nebraska.gov, provides statewide information on current traffic speeds, road construction impacts and weather forecasts. It also provides links to highway cameras for real-time views of conditions. Travelers can dial 511 on their mobile device or (800) 906-9069 from a landline to listen to automated updates on road conditions.
The weather possibilities may be endless in Nebraska, but for resourceful travelers, great adventures await.