"Winter is here."
Grant County Highway Commissioner Dave Lambert uttered that statement Wednesday morning as the first major snowstorm slammed southwest Wisconsin, dropping more than two inches of the white stuff an hour, making roads very difficult to maneuver when school buses were on the road between 7 and 8 a.m.
Lambert had been watching the storm front for more than a day as it came over the plains and Iowa, and by all indications there would be about an inch falling on the county. But when the storm went over the Mississippi River, it began to turn, moving northeast, and picking up strength as it headed over Grant County.
Plow crews for state highways, including USH 151, were out on the roads just before 6 a.m., and at that time there was merely a dusting on the ground. "Before that there wasn't much out there for them to push," Lambert said.
By the time the crews ventured out to clear the county roads at 7 a.m., the storm was getting into high gear. Trucks cover 50 miles, and it takes two hours to clear both sides. "What we are experiencing is two inches an hour, and if it takes two hours to clean there is going to be four inches on the ground at the end," Lambert said. "We're getting the whole storm. It’s coming down so hard."
By 9 a.m., Lambert said the worst section was anything north of STH 18 in Fennimore, but he added "it's all dangerous." All available plow trucks are out on the roads, attempting to keep up with the snow, which is expected to fall heavily until mid-afternoon. Trucks are also delivering salt to different shops.
Meanwhile, the call center at the Grant County Sheriff’s Department dispatch center was quite busy with numerous calls for accidents and slide-offs of vehicles.
According to Chief Deputy Jack Johnson, there were four dispatchers on this morning, and one alone cleared more than 150 calls due to the snowstorm, There were 29 accidents, while another 70 vehicles were involved in slide-offs. Nine officers from the sheriff’s department were on the road, including the chief deputy, Sheriff Keith Govier, and even the jail administrator was on duty on the roads Wednesday dealing with the calls, handling traffic while wreckers pulled vehicles from the ditchline, or helping clear roads from the accidents. They were joined by local police departments, as well as five officers from the State Patrol.
There were also 25 assist calls, where traffic was helped up a hill. Johnson noted that on one call, four semis were assisted up the hill near Patch Grove.
Back at the highway department, Lambert noted that people should take things slowly during this first storm. The first snowfall always is a bit greasy, and it has been a year since people had driven in such conditions, and their snow driving may be rusty. "You hit the brakes hard, you won't stop," Lambert noted.