Snow coming down faster than plows could handle, crashes closing sections of freeways and the worst of it happening during rush hour combined to create a bad commute Tuesday evening for drivers in the Chippewa Valley.
Eau Claire city snow plows continued cleaning up Wednesday and were bracing for more snow forecast for today.
“We’re going to have staff working around the clock until we get through this next storm and get both of them cleaned up,” city street maintenance manager Steven Thompson said.
Today’s forecast includes up to 8 inches of new accumulation, mostly during the daytime, according to the National Weather Service. Precipitation may waver between snow and freezing drizzle during this morning, based on that forecast.
The new snowfall would come on the heels of Tuesday’s winter storm that was at its worst when schoolchildren and workers were heading home.
Plows began patrolling Eau Claire streets at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday — shortly after that day’s snowfall began — and encountered challenges throughout the afternoon.
City and Eau Claire County plows can keep up with an inch of snowfall per hour, Thompson said, but the pace was 2 inches an hour around 4 and 5 p.m.
“It was coming so hard you couldn’t get there fast enough,” Thompson said.
Drivers faced roads with snow on them and more coming down, resulting in some hazardous conditions.
Eau Claire ambulances responded to vehicle crashes between 3 and 5:30 p.m. Tuesday on Interstate 94 and U.S. 53. Traffic was routed off U.S. 53 from 3:50 until almost 6 p.m., according to notices sent by the state Department of Transportation.
That led motorists onto Business 53 — Hastings Way in Eau Claire — which became clogged with vehicles.
The resulting traffic jam on that thoroughfare prevented plows from clearing the mounting snow.
“The trucks couldn’t move because all that 53 traffic went onto Hastings,” Thompson said.
Several times throughout the day, police cars briefly blocked steep hills around downtown to give plows a chance to clear Madison Street, State Street and Harding Avenue and lay down salt.
After many had made a slower-than-usual journey home, the snow let up and plows were able to make more progress. By 10:30 p.m., all main arterial roads had been plowed, though there was still some snow on them, Thompson said.
The National Weather Service’s forecast for Eau Claire had anticipated up to 7 inches Tuesday, but that’s viewed as the low end of what actually fell.
“I’ve heard 7.5 but I think we’re north of that,” Thompson said.
He saw areas where the snow is 10 inches deep, and some of his workers reported a full foot in areas.
The National Weather Service’s official tally for Eau Claire was 7.7 inches of snow on Tuesday, but other gauges indicate more fell in the area. Two other weather spotters in Eau Claire reported 8 inches and 8.6 inches. Gauges in Chippewa Falls recorded 10 and 10½ inches of snow. Reports from Menomonie and Elk Mound had about 8 inches of snow.
Tuesday’s snowfall turned out to be a “perfect storm” — hitting hard at a time where traffic is heaviest, Thompson said.
The last situation he recalls a similar rush hour snowstorm was in 2013 when motorists encountered rain that turned into heavy snow.
To help plow drivers clear off roads, drivers are reminded to obey alternate-side parking through Friday. Homeowners also are warned against pushing snow from their driveways into streets, which can result in a citation.
Leader-Telegram reporter Christena T. O’Brien contributed to this report.