Blizzard sets snow records across Wisconsin, shuts down roads, power, church services

Jonathan Anderson, Alison Dirr and Mitchell A. Skurzewski
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A man shovels snow on Main Street in Stevens Point, Wis., during a spring blizzard on Sunday, April 15, 2018.

An unprecedented spring blizzard continued to bear down on northeastern and central Wisconsin on Sunday, wreaking havoc on roads, causing roofs to collapse and prompting churches to cancel services.

The storm set snowfall records in Green Bay, Appleton and Wausau, according to Roy Eckberg of the National Weather Service.

"It's probably going to go in the record books as a historic April snowstorm," Eckberg said.

The National Weather Service expected the storm, which started Friday evening, would linger into Sunday night and bring with it more snow, sleet and freezing rain. The blizzard warning was canceled early Sunday evening and replaced with winter weather advisories

Wind gusts were estimated to reach 50 miles per hour and cause whiteout conditions with the possibility of localized flooding along the Green Bay and Lake Michigan shoreline.

Many churches canceled Sunday morning services, while at least one pastor said he would stream mass live on Facebook.

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The heavy snow and strong winds caused power outages throughout the region over the weekend, and several roof collapses were reported around Green Bay on Sunday.

Numerous inbound and outbound flights at Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay also were canceled Sunday.

At Appleton International Airport, which did not take as direct of a hit as Green Bay, plow drivers worked all weekend to keep runways open and functioning.

“We are open, our runways are open,” Pat Tracey, the airport’s marketing director, said Sunday morning. “We’re getting flights in and out. The cancellations typically happen because of problems at the hub airports, and the hub airports affected by this blizzard are Minneapolis and Chicago.”

He believed four flights were canceled by the airlines on Saturday and one on Sunday as of about 8 a.m. Two departing flights Sunday morning were delayed, but the airport’s website shows other flights left on time. 

“We had 15 flights leave yesterday in the middle of this thing and we’re going to have 20 flights go out today in this blizzard,” Tracey said.  

“It’s actually kind of amazing,” he said.

Many highways across the region were covered in ice or snow on Sunday, according to the state Department of Transportation.

In a Facebook post, the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department cautioned drivers to stay off the road, saying experienced officers were describing the blizzard using terms like “worst storm ever.”

“The Outagamie County Highway Department is hard at work trying to clear the roads but this will be an ongoing process well into tomorrow,” the department said in the post.

Outagamie County deputies had helped more than 100 motorists and responded to nearly 60 accidents since early Saturday morning, Sgt. CayeLynn Duchow said Sunday.

In Portage County, the sheriff described roads as "impassable due to the drifting and blowing snow."

Wisconsin Rapids police also were working to help motorists. Officers there pushed between 20 and 30 cars out of the snow since Friday, Lt. Brian Krzykowski said.

"Basically if someone did not have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, we found them on snow banks or just stuck on the side road," he said.

Snowfall records

As of 1 p.m. Sunday, 20.6 inches of snow had fallen in Ashwaubenon since late Friday.

That's well past the record for any single April storm, last set in 1977 at 11 inches. It also surpasses the previous record snowfall total for the month, set in 1907 at 15.1 inches.

The Green Bay area is on track to get half its seasonal snowfall in April alone if it gets more than 31 inches this month, which looks likely, Eckberg said.

"That has never been done before," he said.

Wausau exceeded its old snowfall record for an April storm, previously set at 12.1 inches in 1993, with 16 inches as of 8 a.m. The city also set a new monthly total record, according to the National Weather Service.

Appleton, too, broke its snowfall record for an April storm.

'Might as well take advantage of it'

Around Appleton Sunday morning, strong winds couldn't mask the sound of snowblowers as residents tried to keep their sidewalks — and those of their neighbors — at least manageable. 

It wasn't easy. 

Many leaned into the machines, pushing hard against heavy piles of snow as flurries whipped around them. 

Deanne and Scott Anderson, accompanied by their European golden retriever, Odin, estimated they were in their fourth hour of clearing snow this weekend. 

Deanne Anderson had planned to spend Saturday with her daughter at the spa but the weather forced the salon to close, and they decided to not risk travel around the city to get together.

Instead, Deanne and Scott Anderson stayed home, tended to the driveway and made lasagna. 

And while they had planned to attend St. Bernard Catholic Church in Appleton Sunday morning, the snow kept them at home for a second day. 

In nearby Erb Park, the Radtke family readied their sleds to glide down a hill coated in a deep layer of snow. 

"We couldn't do anything about the weather, so we might as well take advantage of it," said Scott Radtke, who was there with his children and wife, Sara. "The kids haven't been out sledding a whole lot so it's one last opportunity, and you know we'll be barbecuing and sitting outside in about two weeks." 

Their son, Alexander, 9, was going to be in an Appleton Boy Choir concert Sunday but that was canceled. 

As for the rest of the weekend, they see the blizzard as an opportunity to make some chili and likely build s'mores by the fireplace.

It's a weekend they'll remember.

"I was hoping all winter for a good old-fashioned snowstorm, so I guess my wish came true," Sara Radtke said. "I didn't exactly want it in April, but I guess I still got it!"

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