Winter Storm Jupiter

January 23, 2017

A swath of freezing rain was coming to glaze the central United States in a sheet of ice. The storm even earned itself a name- Jupiter.

Fresh produce was clearing the shelves of the grocery stores, residents kept the salt or kitty litter close at hand, tarps and towels were tied over windshields, and fuel was stalked up to prepare for the potential power outage.

The National Weather Service began informing Lincoln weather stations of the upcoming storm, saying that one of this magnitude hasn’t hit Nebraska in 11 years. Although the dire forecasts for the looming storm proved severe enough to grace Nebraskan students everywhere with a snow day (or rather- ice day), I took the challenge of conquering those seriously slick residential streets and drove home for the extra day off.

Icy irrigation pivot near Firth, Nebraska. Photo by Carlee Koehler

South of Lincoln, in the rural outskirts of the nearby town of Firth, country gravel roads were covered in thick slush from the previous day of constant drizzle. The absence of students making their way to school because of their day off left the wet gravel untraveled and slippery. Irrigation pivots stretched over the saturated and frozen fields. The temperature hadn’t quite returned to freezing yet, but it was well on its way.

Pasture vegetation drenched in ice.  Photo by Carlee Koehler

The first thing I did after safely arriving home? I set out to see Jupiter myself.

The breeze was faint, the sun couldn’t quite break through the clouds, and everything around me was preserved in glass. Each mirror-like blade of prairie grass through the maroon color of my coat in every direction. Every exposed inch of grass, every exposed grove of bark- all had held their breath while they were gradually overtaken and consumed with ice.  The world was showered with diamonds.

Photos from around the acreage. Photo by Carlee Koehler

The afternoon quickly turned to evening, and the temperature turned colder.  Droplets froze, after beading up to slide down stems, suddenly suspended. Crystallized vegetation shattered under every step. I retreated to a dense grove that had remained untouched- a dry, haven. Stepping out of that crunch and under that first tree felt like stepping into silence. I stopped to observe the distinct line separating dry comfort and the ice-sculpted landscape. As the gray sky darkened and after the first raccoon of the night slinked behind some trees, I scooped up the tag-along cat, took the long route past the cat-tail pond and went inside for the night.

Ice capsules and the edge of the ice-sculpted landscape. Photo by Carlee Koehler

The morning was dazzling. As if I thought the ice was reflective the evening before, the morning proved to be nearly blinding. Thawing limbs and grass now had a skim layer of melting water atop of the ice. The view from afar of even the front lawn was simply shimmering and splendid.  A bird and a far-off train, whistles alike, effortlessly floated through the trees, gliding past smooth and polished obstacles.  Icy capsules dropped and shattered and dripping twigs gave the illusion of a drizzly day all over again.  The world was twisting, shaking, and stretching to wake up from its deep winter’s nap.

Jupiter turned out to be not so extensive and severe as the Lincoln area had expected. Although the storm had brought damaging accumulations of ice to some of the plains, in the southern Lincoln region, things didn’t get too out of hand. Weighed down trees lost some limbs and windshields took extra long to scrape off, but otherwise business was back to usual in no time.  Lincoln’s power didn’t go out, and the kitty litter was necessary only for one morning. As the thousands of icicles dripped to their end, I returned to school the next day on dry roads and with a sunny sky overhead.  We were prepared for the worst yet. Instead, our otherwise mundane views had transformed for a moment into a beautiful glittering spectacle.

Ice coated pasture grass. Photo by Carlee Koehler


PBT team photo. Summer 2023

About PBT

We are a group of storytellers using timelapse photography and multimedia storytelling to explore watersheds. PBT has been in motion since 2011.

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