The National Weather Services has issued a Winter Weather Warning from now until 6AM Saturday morning for Dane County. Additionally, the entire state of Wisconsin will be under either a Winter Weather Watch or Warning by tomorrow night.
On top of three to six inches of snow expected by Saturday morning, wind gusts as high as 50 miles per hour are expected on Friday, along with bitter cold across Dane County. With wind chills expected as low as 35 degrees below zero, the National Weather Service says that this can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes.
The state Department of Transportation says if you can, stay home on Friday. Driving is expected to be difficult, with wind gusts expected to create occasional whiteout conditions.
If you do have to travel on Friday, the Department of Transportation has a few tips. First, make sure you have a full tank of gas, and windshield washer fluid. Make sure your phone is fully charged, and if possible bring some way to charge your phone just to be safe. Finally, keep an emergency kit in your vehicle containing blankets, warm socks and gloves, a first aid kit, drinking water and non-perishable food like granola bars, and sand or kitty litter for traction.
While you’re on the road, make sure you’re driving slower than usual, and stay at least 300 feet behind any working snow plow. If you can’t see their mirrors, they can’t see you.
Even if you’re careful, slide-offs can still happen. Friday’s conditions could become challenging even for tow trucks, so be prepared to wait longer than usual for help. That goes for emergency vehicles, like ambulances and fire trucks, as well.
The city and county’s snow plows will also be in full force over the next few days. County officials held a press conference earlier today, saying that they will have 60 vehicles working to keep the roads safe once the snow starts to fall. County Highway Commissioner Jerry Mandli says the danger isn’t so much from the snow itself, but from the snow drifts that come after.
“We ask everyone to be very cautious, and give our folks the room they need to do their job,” Mandli says. “It’ll be rapidly changing conditions. If you’re traveling in the city of Madison, beltline or the interstate, things are going to look pretty good. But if you get off that main path, those places will drift over very quickly and we can get through those areas, but they can drift by the time we come through, and we need to make a second pass through those.”
Mandli says icy conditions are another factor complicating driving conditions. Main thoroughfares and bus routes in Madison should be regularly salted. But transportation officials say , they might not hit the side streets until later in the day, when the temperatures get so low, salt may not be as effective.
Additionally, Mandli says that the amount of traffic on a road can also affect salt’s effectiveness.
“If there’s more traffic out there, if the tires go over and form (icy) conditions on the road, the (salt) won’t be quite as effective,” Mandli says. “So we will be watching that and the amount of traffic as well.”
The Dane County Regional Airport is also expecting delays this weekend. Michael Riechers says that they’ve been preparing for this storm since Monday.
“It started with scheduling some of our staff, actually pretty light, and the reason for that is so people are well-rested and the timing works out because when a snow event hits, we go into a 24 hour cycle,” Riechers says. “Now certainly that’s not a continuous 24 hour shift, it’s split up into many shifts, but our staff then takes shifts throughout that 24 hour cycle. We started with the staffing plan, and our crews have also spent the week preparing their equipment for the snow removal, mainly for the airfield, getting all of that tuned up after the last snow event earlier in the week and getting it ready for this next one coming up.”
Riechers says that, if it is possible for you to change your plans, that would probably be best. He says that what happens at the Dane County Airport partly depends on what’s happening at the Minneapolis airport, because many flights from Dane County either come from or go to Minneapolis. Conditions in Minneapolis are looking worse than in Madison, and they are currently under a Blizzard Warning.
But with the holidays just around the corner, Riechers says that some travel is just unavoidable. So if you have to fly on Thursday or Friday, he says that planning ahead is important.
“Reach out to the airline that you’re traveling with,” Riechers says. “Many of the airlines are offering a really robust rebooking option. Look into that if you can flag your trip left or right, earlier or later. That would be a tremendous help not only to yourself, but to airline staff and to the network. If your plans aren’t flexible, and you absolutely have to travel, please arrive early. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport safely. Once you’re here, be proactive about getting through security and getting up to your gate so you aren’t rushed.”
Riechers also reminds everyone to please be patient with airport staff, as their number one goal is to get everyone where they need to be safely.
Photo courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT News Team