Heavy snowfall across western Wisconsin that began Wednesday evening and continued into Thursday once again closed schools, led to canceled events and created struggles for street departments.
Eau Claire schools superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said Thursday marked the 11th snow day for the district this winter.
“It really has to do with the weather conditions and the driving conditions,” Hardebeck said of the decision to close. “The biggest thing is safety. The driving is just very difficult.”
Hardebeck called it an “unprecedented” winter with the numerous heavy snowfalls. She isn’t sure how the district will now make up yet another missed school day.
“We’ll get something to our families (today),” she said. “We need to look at plans and logistics. We appreciate the cooperation and support from our families, and our staff has been great.”
Chippewa Falls schools superintendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos agreed that the district had to shut down again.
“I think everyone is in agreement that this recent snowstorm and resulting school cancellation was an unwelcome guest in our community,” Taylor-Eliopoulos said. “This winter has been highly unusual, but it has caused us to consider additional ways we can build in even more flexibility and options for next year.”
Westbound Interstate 94 between Osseo and Hixton was closed entirely for several hours Thursday morning, although the state Department of Transportation warned drivers that the roads remained slippery and reminded people to slow down.
Removing snow from roads was a challenge, said Eau Claire County highway commissioner Jon Johnson.
“Through the night, it was really nasty, with zero visibility,” Johnson said mid-day Thursday. “We have a lot of snow pack on the roads we’re trying to remove. We’re in pretty bad shape overall. We’re putting a grader on the interstate.”
Salt mix wasn’t working much in melting snow, he added.
“The rain dilutes the salt we used,” Johnson said.
Rain gave way to snow, but then freezing rain fell on top of it.
“It made ice sandwiches on the road we can’t get off,” he said.
Chippewa County highway commissioner Brian Kelley agreed that the roads are slick.
“We were dealing with a lot of wind and drifting,” Kelley said. “We had some hard-packed ice. We were trying not to use a lot of salt.”
Kelley said the county’s highway committee will be reviewing the costs of this winter’s snow removal at the next meeting, as February alone totaled $922,000. The county usually estimates about $1.5 million for the entire year.
“It’s definitely an expensive year,” Kelley said.
Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said his department received calls of 30 different crashes Thursday morning, with nearly all of them of cars sliding off roads and into ditches. However, no injuries were reported.
“They were driving too fast for conditions,” he said of motorists.
Two semis also couldn’t get up the ramp onto Highway T from Highway 29, he said.
“The highway department is having a hard time keeping up with the snow,” Kowalczyk said. “Highway 29 was plowed but seeing the markings was hard.”
The National Weather Service reports the Chippewa Valley received 11.3 inches of snow between 4 p.m. Wednesday and 11 a.m. Thursday.
“That shatters the official all-time record,” said meteorologist Caleb Grunzke. With this snowfall, the Chippewa Valley has now received 98.7 inches of snow this winter, he said.
More snow could still come today, he added.
“It’s not looking like a lot — an inch at most,” Grunzke said.
The snow over the day makes the second-most ever in a 24-hour period in April for the Chippewa Valley, Grunzke added.
The good news is it won’t last long.
“It should warm up. This snow should disappear quickly,” Grunzke said. “It will be low to mid 40s this weekend, and in the 50s next week.”