Wisconsin winter. Snow storm risks, and snow removal costs in cities

Wisconsin winter.  Snow storm risks, and snow removal costs in cities

Despite ushering in a warmer and drier winter due to El Niño, snowfall will soon replace the fallen foliage, and that means navigating snow-covered roads.

Drivers in Wisconsin have become familiar with the National Weather Service’s relatively new “blizzard warning” when normal driving conditions deteriorate to near zero in a matter of seconds.

A blizzard is defined as a short-lived, intense spell of heavy snowfall that results in a rapid decrease in visibility. It can pose a threat to the lives of drivers and is known to cause major chain reaction accidents on heavily traveled highways.

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“There’s a brief 30 to 60 minute period of heavy snow, where your roads go from completely dry and easy to drive to snowy, white-out blizzard conditions,” said Tim Halbach of the National Weather Service.

Although we don’t experience blizzards very often, when we do, it’s dangerous, Halbach said.

Southeastern Wisconsin has only had one blizzard warning since it was first issued in 2018. That happened on the evening of February 18, 2022. Timmerman Airport north of Milwaukee recorded 75 mph wind gusts and thunderstorms were also reported in some Locations.

Blizzards were always a danger in winter but they were not easy to transport. They do not produce enough snow to issue a winter storm warning and pose a more imminent threat than winter weather advisory standards.

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When a blizzard warning is issued, the radio alert system will be triggered, indicating an imminent threat. A text alert with a special tone and vibration is sent to smartphones within the affected area. It should be treated as a warning of a damaging severe thunderstorm or tornado, prompting you to take action.

“This might be a good time to stop and wait out the snow,” Halbach said.

It doesn’t have to be white to create dangerous roads. Often times, it’s the smallest snow that causes the most problems. That’s why the Department of Public Works devotes so much time and money to keeping our roads drivable and safe.

“We respond very quickly, within minutes, and for the larger storms we expect, we are prepared even before the snow falls,” DPW’s Karl Chopps said.

The City of Milwaukee has an annual budget of $10.7 million for snow and ice control. Budget factors in long-range forecasts and climate patterns such as El Niño. It also takes into account the amount of money required in previous seasons and the possibility of any additional outside staff or equipment needs. Just one storm with widespread salting and plowing can cost the city up to $1 million.

“We look at every storm and expect the appropriate response. It’s a balance between the resources and equipment we have available and what’s needed to keep city streets safe for our citizens,” Chopps said.

The Department of Public Works says time and temperature are the biggest factors for clearing roads. They also urge Wisconsin residents to give plow drivers space.

In case you are stranded or stranded due to inclement weather, it is important to have an emergency kit in your car that contains blankets, kitty litter, water, and non-perishable foods. This is in addition to your regular shovel and ice scraper.

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