The Madison metro area and much of the rest of southern Wisconsin is being hit by a second major winter storm in less than two weeks on Sunday, February 17. Freezing rain started falling across a broad swath of the state overnight, icing and flooding roads, with the precipitation changing over to heavy snows through the day. By night, upwards of a foot of new snow is expected west of Madison, with up to a combined 11 inches of snow in ice in the city, while gradually diminishing amounts are forecast east towards Milwaukee. The National Weather Service (NWS) is providing ongoing reports on the storm as it progresses.
The live-blogging his experiences with this new storm.
Transportation throughout the region was affected by the freezing rain overnight, and major difficulties are anticipated in the face of the blizzard conditions expected later in the day. The interstate to the south and east of Madison is marked by slippery stretches, reports the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, while I-90/94/39 north towards Portage and the Wisconsin Dells is considered "ice covered and hazardous." More details about winter road conditions throughout the state are being provided by the state DOT.
Due to these reports and anticipated problems through the day, Dane County Emergency Management has issued a travel advisory, warning drivers to remain off the roads for their own and others' safety. It reads:
Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney and Dane County Emergency Management urge persons to stay off the roads today!! Dane County roads, streets and sidewalks are ice covered and hazardous. The Dane County Public Safety Communications Center is receiving reports of standing water on roadways and streets across Dane County. The combination of freezing rain and localized flooding greatly reduces the safety of travel outdoors.
Rain and freezing rain has been falling in Dane County since 2:00 a.m. this morning with the expectation that it will change to snow this afternoon. This rain has changed into a layer of ice ¼ to ½ an inch thick.
The department goes own to suggest several precautions for drivers who "cannot avoid driving."
The City of Madison is also warning drivers to stay off the roads. "The combination of freezing rain, ice and snow is making for difficult driving conditions, which are likely to get even worse with the onset of the heavy snow that has been forecast," says Mayor Cieslewicz in a statement issued Sunday morning. "Although City crews are working hard to make our streets as safe as possible, unnecessary travel should be avoided if at all possible."
The Madison Metro bus transit system has also cancelled all routes due to the weather. "Due to extreme ice and snow weather conditions, Metro is not running service today, on Sunday, February 17," it announces. "Please check back this evening for service information for Monday, February 18." The storm is also affecting taxi services in Madison, so riders should call ahead to confirm the availability of service. And while flights at Dane County Regional Airport are currently being listed as one time, the deteriorating conditions may lead to delays and cancellations, with all arrival and departure times to be updated as conditions warrant.
Heavy snows are likely to result in an official Snow Emergency in Madison, and the City reports how it will be plowing through the day. As noted in the early morning statement from Cieslewicz:
During the early stages of the storm, Streets Division equipment will be focused on treating and plowing the City's main thoroughfares. Citywide plowing of all residential streets is expected to begin this evening. Plowing operations will take longer than usual due to the heavy, wet snow.
Due to the heavy snow accumulations, a snow emergency is likely to be called in Madison this evening. Madisonians parked in snow emergency zones are strongly encouraged to move their vehicles to an appropriate place, so that city plows can get streets in the downtown area cleared. Failure to move vehicles in snow emergency zones can result in streets becoming dangerously narrow, as plows must maneuver around the parked vehicles.
Free parking is available at City parking ramps between 9 p.m 7 a.m. Free parking is also available during snow emergencies at Burr Jones Park, Tenney Park and Olbrich Park.
The City also encourages residents to email sent on Saturday afternoon by Madison Streets Department Superintendent Al Schumacher:
This will be a very trying snow storm to say the least. Our streets will get more narrow than they are now because there is no place for the snow to go. The snow banks are higher than the plows so the snow will just fall back into the street when we plow it narrowing our streets even further. Another side effect of having snow banks this tall is that more snow will stay on the plows and end up filling the driveways.
It has to go somewhere and if it can't fall off on the terraces, it will fall off at the driveways. This will not be quick cleanup either. Once we start plowing residential streets, I expect it to take a lot longer than the normal 10-12 hours because of the amount of snow and the fact that it will be wet and heavy. Extra cuts will have to be made in order to move all the weight.
An update on the streets and plowing conditions in Madison was subsequently issued early Sunday morning. As detailed in the press release:
The City of Madison was hit with a mixture of rain sleet, and freezing rain last night. It was the first blow of a severe winter storm that is expected to drop 8 to 10 inches of snow on the city by Monday morning. The heavy rains and ice have made driving hazardous and people are strongly urged to stay off the streets. The City is responding to the storm with crews opening storm sewers, and applying sand and salt to main streets.
"Residential streets are extremely treacherous and people should stay home and avoid driving," Streets Division spokesperson George Dreckmann said. "Many side streets are ice covered and main streets have spots with heavy slush. There is standing water at intersections, low-lying areas, under bridges and on the Beltline."
Streets Division crews are applying a salt sand mix to main thoroughfares and trying to keep these roads open for emergency vehicles. Crews from Engineering, the Water Utility, Forestry, and Streets are working to open up storm sewers so water can drain before the heavy snow that is expected to fall in the next 24 hours.
"This is a major winter storm and we are urging residents to remove all vehicles from the streets immediately," Dreckmann said. "This will make snow removal more effective this evening."
The City of Madison will operate an around the clock snow plowing operation. They will respond to the changing weather conditions, but current plans are to keep working on main streets throughout the day and conduct a general plowing of all city streets at midnight. A second general plowing on Monday may be necessary.
"We are planning for heavy wet snow which will require extra time and effort to plow, especially after all of the rain," Dreckmann said.
More information about Snow Emergency rules in the city is available from its Streets Division.
Meanwhile, numerous churches throughout southern Wisconsin have canceled services Sunday morning due to the storm, and many major businesses and shopping centers in Madison have also closed their doors. This includes the Overture Center, East and West Town, Hilldale, and Westgate malls, Greenway Station, and Dejope Gaming. The Hillary Clinton event at Monona Terrace on Sunday evening, meanwhile, remains scheduled though it has been moved back to 8:30 p.m. with the doors opening at 6:30 p.m. More information about closings is being provided by WIBA and The Mic, WISC, WKOW, WMTV, and UW-Madison. More closings and cancellations are likely through the day and night, and could continue on into Monday.
Ongoing storm reports and snowfall totals are being provided by the National Weather Service.