Chippewa Valley residents were digging out Saturday morning after an overnight storm left a blanket of 2 to 4 inches of snow over the region.
But they knew the worst was yet to come as part of a rare mid-April blizzard expected to bury much of west-central Wisconsin in a foot of snow.
Bundled up in a red parka, Jackie Meyer tried to keep her sense of humor as she shoveled her driveway on the north side of Eau Claire in hopes of limiting the ice buildup under the deeper pile of heavy, wet snow she was anticipating later Saturday and today.
“It seems more like January 97th than April 14th,” she said with a laugh. “It’s time to be done with snow.”
Meyer said the weather ruined her weekend plans to set up a camper in a Burnett County campground.
“It is pretty,” she said begrudgingly as she looked around at the winter wonderland scene 3½ weeks after the official start of spring. “But it’s April. Enough is enough.”
Likewise, Todd Schneider was out on his four-wheeler plowing several driveways Saturday morning in his neighborhood near Pinehurst Park. He wanted to get the first layer of snow off before doing it all over again today.
He lamented the contrast with spring 2017 and projected the Chippewa Valley might just skip spring weather and jump straight from winter to summer this year.
“I had my boat dock in and my boat in the water by this time last year,” Schneider said of his property on Lake Cornell. “I’d rather be at the lake this weekend, that’s for sure.”
As of Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service was predicting the storm would dump about 13 inches of snow on Eau Claire between Saturday morning and 7 p.m. today, when a winter storm warning is set to expire. That would make it one of only five April storms in Eau Claire with at least a foot of snow over two days in the past 125 years, according to the agency’s records.
The record one-day April snowfall in Eau Claire was 13 inches on April 11, 1929, while the most accumulation in a two-day April storm was 15 inches on April 3-4, 1945.
Schneider, for one, was prepared to make history.
“If we have to live through it, we might as well set a record doing it,” he said.
Meteorologist Bill Borghoff of the Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minn., reported “near whiteout conditions” in the Twin Cities Saturday morning and afternoon and said that system was heading toward Eau Claire. Indeed, snow began falling briskly around 4 p.m. in Eau Claire and was expected to continue into today, when the forecast calls for a high temperature of 31 degrees.
Isolated areas in west-central Wisconsin could get as much as 18 inches of snow during the storm, Borghoff said.
“Big snowstorms can occur throughout the whole month of April, but obviously it is a pretty rare event,” he said.
Snow and ice on roads wreaked havoc on driving conditions in the region, with the Wisconsin State Patrol office in Eau Claire reporting two personal injury crashes, about 20 property damage crashes and roughly 50 vehicle runoffs in the region from 6 p.m. Friday through 7 p.m. Saturday, mostly on Interstate 94. The crashes included a truck pulling a camper trailer that rolled over and blocked both lanes in St. Croix County and a semitrailer truck that jackknifed in the Knapp hill area, both early Saturday evening, Sgt. Bill Berger of the State Patrol said.
Eau Claire police responded to about 12 crashes and slide-ins between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, mostly the result of drivers traveling too fast for conditions, Lt. Ben Frederick said.
“If you can stay off the roadways, that’s ideal,” Frederick advised motorists, anticipating road conditions would continue to be slippery through today. “If you do have to go someplace, then go slow.”
Ironically, the nasty conditions forced the postponement of Saturday’s planned March for Science and Climate at UW-Eau Claire. The event will be rescheduled.
“A lot of people recognized the irony of having to cancel the event due to the weather,” said march co-organizer Kate Beaton, western organizer for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters and an Eau Claire Councilwoman, noting that climate change causes unpredictability in the weather. “It’s hard to say if this is climate change right in front of our eyes, but it’s certainly not normal.”
By contrast, one of UW-Eau Claire’s major indoor spring events, the Viennese Ball, was scheduled to continue in spite of the weather.
“We’re going to try to power through,” James Bremness, coordinator of the 44th annual ball, considered to be the largest of its kind in the world outside of Vienna itself, said Saturday afternoon.
The ominous forecast had little effect on turnout Friday night, and Bremness said he anticipated most ballgoers would brave the storm Saturday night as well.
Tickets for the second night of the two-day event, a fundraiser for student scholarships, have been sold out since mid-March.
The weather is quite a contrast to last year, when the outdoor terrace at Davies Center was a popular spot for ball guests. “This year, grounds crews are going nonstop to keep the sidewalks clear, and the coat check is being used quite heavily,” Bremness said.
Wintry conditions took a major toll on turnout for the annual craft show Saturday at Hope Lutheran Church in Eau Claire, as half the 26 scheduled vendors opted not to make the trip.
The poor turnout of vendors and customers is unfortunate because the event is usually a successful fundraiser for church youth programs, organizer Sally Eddy said.
“You’d have never thought when I planned this months ago that in the middle of April we’d be having a snowstorm,” Eddy said. “But that’s what happens in Wisconsin.”
Eddy already had allowed herself to ponder what she wants to plant in her garden this year. “But now I’m shoveling snow instead,” she said, shaking her head.
Unfortunately, Borghoff said, no end to the unseasonable weather is in sight, as the Weather Service is predicting new systems could bring more snow to the Chippewa Valley in the middle of this week and again next weekend.
“It just keeps hitting,” he said.
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The city of Eau Claire has announced that alternate side parking rules will go into effect beginning at 12:01 a.m. Sunday and ending at 5 p.m. Tuesday. That means vehicles shall only be parked on the side of the street with odd-numbered addresses on odd-numbered days and vice versa to accommodate snow plowing. The rules are in effect between midnight and 5 p.m.