Snow, cold, snow, cold
A bitter cold snap and strong winds combined to send wind chills around much of Wisconsin to at least 35 degrees below zero, creating icy driving conditions that shut down interstates and highways.
While that was Sunday’s weather wrap-up, the tale of today and Tuesday likely will be one of snow as the National Weather Service is forecasting three to five inches tonight and into tomorrow in southern Wisconsin.
On it’s surface, that’s not particularly good news. But if you believe in an old Indian formula that uses a cat to predict a season’s snowfalls, it’s great news: Today’s snowfall will be the 31st and last of the season for the Janesville area.
Wouldn’t it be fitting to get 3.46 inches of snow today, break the snowfall record set in 1978 and then call it a season?
Fitting, yes; likely, no.
The Wisconsin State Patrol closed a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 39/90 just south of Madison for about an hour and a half Sunday because of icy driving conditions. Strong winds blew snow around to create near-whiteouts and snow drifts.
It was the same area—but in the opposite direction—where thousands of motorists were stranded for as long as 12 hours in last week’s snowstorm. Vehicles were stuck in ditches near Stoughton, and authorities had to clear those vehicles, plus all the other vehicles off the road, so conditions could be improved.
In Rock County, deputies responded to 80 vehicle runoffs and 17 traffic crashes between 3 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. Highway 14 between Janesville and Delavan was closed for several hours because of a crash.
On I-90 in Dane County, slippery driving conditions were made worse by strong winds and freezing temperatures. Sgt. Les Mlsna said it was so bad a trooper’s car got hit twice because cars couldn’t stop or even slow down.
Shortly after reopening, five more cars got stuck in ditches, he said.
State Patrol Sgt. Craig Lindgren said road closures, particularly those on the Interstate during bad weather, are complicated. Troopers typically block lanes to divert traffic off the Interstate while prohibiting access to on-ramps.
“In a weather situation, we have to consider what type of roads we’ll be rerouting traffic to,” Lindgren said. “In many cases, those roads may be worse than the Interstate and people aren’t familiar with where they are or where they’re going. Then they get stuck, and we start getting cell phone calls from people who don’t have the reference points as to where they are.”
On the Interstate, authorities often can better control the situation with the manpower and resources available, he said.
In addition to monitoring area radio stations for road closures, motorists should check out the Department of Transportation’s Web site—www.dot.wi.gov/travel/road/winter-roads.htm—for the latest road conditions and closures, Lindgren said.
No weather-related fatalities were reported all weekend, said Jon Morrison, a Madison-based dispatcher for the Wisconsin State Patrol.
“Things have settled down,” he said Sunday evening. “It’s mainly been runoffs, things like that.”
The tough driving conditions and cold weather didn’t turn away sturgeon spearers on Sunday, the second day of the spearing season.
Terry Gerhartz of Chilton said no one in his group opted to stay home because of the temperatures. He made sure not to have any exposed skin when we went out to his shanty Sunday morning on Lake Winnebago, in north central Wisconsin.
“If you got stuck out there, you’d get cold in a hurry,” said the 48-year-old, who was warming up at a restaurant in nearby Hilbert.
The entire state was under a wind chill warning throughout much of Sunday, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob McMahon, although the cold snap began to ease by late afternoon.
The weather agency said the wind chill values were expected to improve through this morning, but some four to six inches of snow were forecast across the southern third of the state.
No area was immune to the cold on Saturday night.
“It’s safe to say the entire state got down to between minus 35 and minus 40 degrees,” he said.
Air temperatures alone dipped below zero, he said. In Milwaukee, it was 2 degrees below zero by Sunday afternoon, but because the area had wind gusts of up to 31 mph, the wind chill was 25 degrees below zero.
In Madison, the temperature was minus 4 with a wind chill of minus 25, while Green Bay’s temperatures got down to minus 6, with a wind chill of minus 32.
The weather was so cold in Manitowoc County that the sheriff’s department warned some wrecker crews were suspending services because equipment was freezing. Many county vehicles were ending up just like motorists, in ditches.
“Even our ambulance services are getting stuck in snow banks,” a news release said.
Authorities in Manitowoc, Outagamie, Walworth and other counties were recommending people stay off the roads. Parts of highways in Outagamie were considered impassable on Sunday because of drifting.
The State Emergency Operations Center was activated Saturday due to the severe weather. Many state entities, including the national guard, were on call Sunday, just in case, said Steve Olson, spokesman for SEOC.
He urged residents to stay off the roads until conditions improved.
“That would help everybody, including themselves,” he said.
By the numbers
Snowfall so far this winter
Record snowfall for a season (1978)
Snow predicted to fall today and Tuesday
Number of snowfalls so far this winter
Days of winter remaining
Last updated: 9:52 am Monday, December 17, 2012