If it seems like we’re getting a lot more snow than usual so far this month, your memory is not playing tricks on you.
The average snowfall for the first 10 days of February in Eau Claire is 3 inches — a relative drop in the bucket compared with the 18.9 inches dumped on the city for that period this year, according to the National Weather Service.
That ties with 2004 for the snowiest first 10 days of February since records began in 1893, said meteorologist Chris O’Brien of the Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minn. Eau Claire received at least a tenth of an inch of snow on six of those 10 days.
For those residents hoping for a break from shoveling, blowing and driving in snow, O’Brien suggested there will be no rest for the weary anytime soon. Weather Service modeling is projecting Eau Claire could receive nearly 9 inches of new snow by the end of today, more on Thursday and likely even more in the weeks to come. A winter storm warning is in effect for much of west-central Wisconsin through midnight today.
“It looks like we’re stuck in this pattern for at least a couple more weeks,” O’Brien said.
Despite the heavy snow of late, Eau Claire remains slightly behind average for snowfall for the entire winter after an unusually dry start to the season. The city had received 29.4 inches of snow this winter through Sunday, compared with an average total through Feb. 10 of 32 inches.
The historic snowfall is wreaking havoc with travel and pushing Chippewa Valley plowing crews to the limit.
The Eau Claire Police Department alone responded to at least 32 crashes and 72 vehicle assists/slide-ins after significant snowstorms Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
And that doesn’t even include the region’s biggest incident of snow-related mayhem — a massive crash Sunday afternoon that involved 33 autos and seven semitrailer trucks on a stretch of Interstate 94 between Osseo and Foster.
The chain-reaction crash started shortly after noon at mile marker 85 when a semi jack-knifed across the interstate after attempting to avoid hitting a Trempealeau County snow plow that was slowing to turn around at a crossover point between the westbound and eastbound lanes, Eau Claire County Highway Commissioner Jon Johnson said Monday.
Trempealeau County authorities reported to Johnson that the semi was in the passing lane, following in the snow cloud of the plow, when the incident occurred.
It’s a reminder that vehicles should slow down when their visibility is hindered by blowing snow and give ample room to plows trying to clear streets and highways, Johnson said.
The Wisconsin State Patrol reported that seven people were hurt in the crash, including one injury that was life-threatening.
The crash, which caused a traffic backup of at least two miles on I-94, closed the interstate for about 5½ hours, with vehicles being detoured onto U.S. 53.
“In slippery conditions like that, as soon as one thing happens in front of you and anybody starts hitting their brakes, it can lead to a chain reaction,” said Lt. Les Mlsna of the State Patrol. “In this case, it took 40 vehicles before everybody could figure it out.”
As far as Johnson and Mlsna know, it was the most vehicles ever involved in a crash in Eau Claire County.
“It was quite a mess,” Mlsna said of the scene that left cars and trucks spread all over the interstate on lanes going in both directions, as well as stuck in snow in the median and surrounding ditches after swerving to avoid striking other vehicles.
At least 12 wreckers were called to haul out damaged or stuck vehicles, and the Osseo-Fairchild school district helped out by busing stranded motorists to Osseo so they could wait in a spot that was warmer and safer than the snowy interstate, he said.
Some of the region’s largest snowfall totals reported by the National Weather Service in the snowstorm that began Sunday were: 8 inches in Mondovi, 7 in Boyceville, 6.5 in Menomonie, 5.5 in Rice Lake and 5 in Chippewa Falls.
With record-level snow so far in February, overworked plow crews haven’t had a chance to start hauling excess snow piling ever higher along streets and bridges. They’ve been maxed out just trying to keep roads as safe as possible.
“It’s starting to pile up, but the problem is it’s been snowing so much that we’re not getting enough time to do that cleanup,” Johnson said.
With the recent snow events, plow drivers are working an extraordinary number of hours, he said, pulling a timecard of one driver showing that beginning the week of Feb. 4 he worked shifts of 16, 18, 13, 16.5, 10, 0 and 16 hours for a total of 89.5 hours in a week. The county’s maximum allowable daily shift is 18 hours.
Eventually, county officials hope the region gets enough of a break between snowstorms to begin hauling truckloads of snow to a parking area south of Eau Claire on Highway 37.
The city of Eau Claire faces similar challenges and is making a list of places that need snow removed to promote safety and ensure streets are wide enough for efficient traffic flow, said street maintenance manager Steven Thompson.
“It is our plan to start hauling snow as soon as possible (to a storage site off Galloway Street), but today we are still cleaning up from the storm yesterday,” Thompson said Monday.
The street department has been pulling in people from a number of other city departments to help keep up with plowing demands, he said.
With more snow in the forecast, officials said, such extreme measures and work schedules are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.