Southern Wisconsin hunkers down as forecast warns of 'historic' blizzard

2011-01-31T20:19:00Z 2013-07-18T12:33:57Z Southern Wisconsin hunkers down as forecast warns of 'historic' blizzardPATRICIA SIMMS | psimms@madison.com | 608-252-6492 madison.com

A long, heavy snowfall — actually a pair of storms — coupled with fierce winds is promising southern Wisconsin its first real blizzard of 2011 and Dane County as much as 14 inches of snow by Wednesday night.

Wisconsin Emergency Management officials have issued warnings to stay home, stay off the roads and hang tough, especially in the southeast corner of the state, beginning this afternoon.

The National Weather Service on Monday said this could be a historic blizzard capable of paralyzing parts of southeast Wisconsin with blowing and drifting conditions and poor visibility, followed by bitter cold.

“Heavy snow and strong winds are really going to cause some treacherous travel conditions,” said Lori Getter, crisis communications manager for the state’s Division of Emergency Management, on Monday. “If you have travel plans Tuesday or Wednesday, postpone them.”

Air travelers, many heading from Wisconsin to Dallas for Sunday’s Super Bowl match-up between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, also face complications from the storm.

Getter said the State Emergency Operations Center will open this afternoon, with officials from Emergency Management, the Department of Transportation, the State Patrol, the Wisconsin National Guard and the National Weather Service monitoring the storm.

Across the region, people prepared. Concert promoter Tag Evers fielded calls about whether the sold-out Snoop Dogg show tonight at the Orpheum Theatre was still on.

Concerts are only canceled if the performer can’t get to town, Evers said. “We’ve had snow before in Wisconsin,” he said. “You’d think we lived in Daytona Beach. It’s snow. We can handle snow.”

In other big doings planned in Madison today, Gov. Scott Walker said he planned to plow ahead with his first State of the State speech.

Walker joked Monday that the storm will give people a reason to stay inside and watch the 7 p.m. speech live. He noted that coverage of the State of the State would be bumped to the fifth of six stories on the evening news, following the weather and Packers Super Bowl updates.

The snow already had begun falling Monday. The Weather Service reported 3 inches of snow in Madison by about 9:30 p.m., with another 2 inches expected to fall overnight and another inch Tuesday morning before the heavier snow begins to fall in the evening.

Storm-related injuries already had begun Monday. A state trooper was struck and seriously injured while directing traffic around a crash on Interstate 43 in Manitowoc County, the State Patrol reported.  

St. Mary’s Hospital tweeted about 2 p.m. Monday that the snow already had started “and already 2 people in our ER with ankle fractures from slipping in the snow!”

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz blogged about the storm, asking for patience with the cleanup.

“It looks like we’ll get our biggest snow storm of the season and maybe the biggest in a few years between now and Wednesday,” he wrote.

“With a storm of this size and intensity ... expect difficult travel conditions probably through Thursday as our crews work around the clock to clean up after the storm.”

Cautious people stopped at area stores for essentials, just in case.

“I thought I probably should just fill up my refrigerator in case I’m home for the next few days,” said Becky Baumbach, filling a grocery cart at a Fitchburg store.

Pamela Pfeffer of Fitchburg was shopping as well, but not because of the storm.

“It’s just snow,” Pfeffer said. “You would take the same precautions you would if there is 5 inches of snow or if it’s 12 inches of snow — you drive safely, you keep food in your house, you stay warm and dry.”

Wisconsin transportation officials cautioned drivers.

“Travel is not recommended in southern and southeastern (Wisconsin) — roughly south and east of a line from Prairie du Chien to Manitowoc — Tuesday night into Wednesday until the storm passes and conditions improve,” the DOT directive said.

While the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning around 6:30 Monday for Jefferson, Rock, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha, only a winter weather advisory was in effect in Dane County at that time.

— Reporters Samara Kalk Derby and Devin Rose, and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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