Those hoping for a White Christmas may have gotten more than they bargained for with the storm that blew in Wednesday night and continued through Thursday.
The Wastewater Treatment Plant in Watertown recorded 9.5 inches of snow Thursday bringing the total snowfall from the storm to 15 inches, according to Rudy Schaar, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sullivan.
Lake Mills received 12 inches and Johnson Creek received 10 inches. Much of southeastern Wisconsin received more rain than snow, with Johnson Creek being the dividing line, Schaar said. Oconomowoc received 3.7 inches of snow with 6 total inches, but 1.7 inches of rain and melted snow was also reported, Schaar said.
The snow that fell was wet and heavy, which will make shoveling difficult.
The winds will stay high this morning, but will gradually taper off this afternoon. Drifting is expected on east-west roads because of the winds. The temperature is also expected to drop later today, Schaar said, until dipping into the single digits overnight.
Schools closed for the second straight day today, giving children, staff members and their families a few days’ head start to Christmas break. Dodgeland, Hustisford, Jefferson, Johnson Creek, Lake Mills, Lakeside Lutheran, Waterloo and Watertown canceled classes and activities.
WE Energies spokesman Brian Manthey said system wide they have restored about 45,000 customers power since Thursday morning. He said as of press time this morning 2,000 customers in the town of Shields, 500 in the town of Lebanon, 300 in the town of Emmet and 100 in town of Ixonia are still without power. Most of the outages have been caused by falling tree limbs, he said.
He added the city of Watertown was in fairly good shape this morning. Crews were having a hard time getting out to downed wires on Thursday, do to impassible roads, Manthey said.
Watertown Street Department Superintendent Rick Schultz said his crews have been out at full capacity since 9:30 p.m. Thursday night and were still plowing as of press time this morning. He said the worst conditions on the roadways in the city were from about 12:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. when the heaviest snow was falling. Later in the evening crews were battling drifting snow from the strong winds on the outskirts of the city, he said.
“We are really appreciative for all the citizens who moved their vehicles, it makes our job so much easier,” Schultz said. “We are thankful for it.”
Schultz said they had an engine die on one of their trucks overnight, but he had no other problems to report.
“I hope we will have most of the crews done by 10 this morning and things will greatly improve as the day goes along,” Schultz said.
He added they will be hitting the downtown area tonight to try and clear up the streets for parking and traveling over the weekend for people who want to holiday shop.
The heavy snow coupled with the strong winds kept the Watertown Fire Department busy throughout the storm. Fire Chief Greg Michalek said from 1:30 p.m. on Thursday to 6:30 this morning the department received about 50 calls for downed wires throughout the city. He added they also had several reports of trees falling on houses, however no significant damage or injuries were reported.
Michalek said Highway 16 and the frontage road had to be shut down in both directions for several hours Thursday night around 7 p.m. after a live power line went down and was sparking across the roadway.
The Watertown Police Department issued 28 citations for vehicles parked on the street during a snow emergency from Thursday morning until press time today. That is in addition to 40 citations handed out from Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
The Dodge County Sheriff’s and Highway Departments were also busy during the storm. The sheriff’s department responded to 136 runoffs and three arcing or downed power lines.
Dodge County Highway Department Commissioner Brian Field said the high winds have proven the most significant obstacle for plow crews, leaving the roads in Dodge County “terrible” this morning.
“Everybody should just stay home until the wind dies down. There’s lots of drifting,” Field said.
Stranded vehicles are also delaying highway crews. When a vehicle gets suck, the whole road shuts down, Field said. Many county roads are impassable for that very reason.
The highway department had 45 snow plows out during the storm and added 10 graders today.
Plows started at midnight and 3 a.m. Thursday, with drivers working until 6 p.m. on county roads, until 9 p.m. on Class II highways and around the clock on Class I highways, Field said. Crews started again at 3 a.m. this morning.
Field advised people to stay off the roads with high winds and blowing snow causing hazardous driving conditions. For those who feel they have to drive, Field said they should go slowly and give highway vehicles enough room.
It’s been a very difficult last few days for the Jefferson County Highway Department, which has assigned a total of 28 drivers to the county’s roadways for snow removal.
According to highway department Superintendent Tim Punzel, Thursday’s storm was one of the most challenging in his memory with the highway department.
“This has been a difficult one,” Punzel said. “There has been all the wet, heavy snow and now you have the hard-pack and the drifting. There’s been a lot of cars and semis stuck; our guys have been stuck. Then there is the ice and we are doing everything we can before the hard-pack sets in.”
Punzel said the county had a grader out on state roads this morning to deal with ice.
“We are struggling now,” he said. “The composition of the precipitation has been unusual and has come all at once. This storm has been right in the top bracket for being challenging. The stuff came down so fast and so hard, and the winds have been so strong. The snow has been very wet and heavy — so much so that the trucks are struggling. Then it immediately turns into a sheet of ice.”
Punzel said the county’s Class I roads, such as Interstate 94 and state highways 26 and 16, are “in decent shape.”
“On the Class II roads, we pulled guys off and when they returned this morning they encountered drifts that were up to five feet high,” Punzel said. “When you are going into that with a truck, you are pushing thousands and thousands of pounds. That is hard on trucks and drivers. The drivers are really white-knuckling it and they have been doing a great job. I am proud of what they do and how they handle it.”
Punzel said the county was putting salt down on the county’s roads today since 4 a.m.
“All the guys have been around their routes at least once or twice and they are getting out on the shoulders to slow the drifting,” Punzel said. “We are applying salt with the salt brine to get the hard-pack peeled off, and the sun will help a bunch ... We have every guy and every truck out today. We are using everybody up. We have every available truck out there right now.”
Punzel reminded motorists to stay far behind county snow plows.
“We ask drivers to slow down and give our guys a chance to do what they have to do,” he said. “We want people to stay far enough back, because when our plows hit the drifts it’s a white-out and you can’t see anything.”