Winds take storm from bad to 'ugly'
An overnight slushfest Thursday turned to fluffy, blowing and sometimes blinding snow as the first winter storm of the season hit the area.
The Rock County Sheriff's Office urged motorists to stay off the roads until noon today because of anticipated strong winds causing whiteout conditions.
Janesville called off school today because of expected drifting snow, poor driving conditions and extended power outages. Other districts closed for the second day in a row.
The big, wet snow began in Janesville around 1 p.m. Strong winds followed.
Snow clung to trees like glue. Overloaded trees and branches crashed down on power lines across the area, causing scattered power outages.
Electric repair crews also reported high winds damaged power lines by causing the lines to move like whips, producing what is called galloping lines.
Alliant Energy reported 2,300 customers without power in Janesville. Traffic lights on Janesville's east-side commercial areas were knocked out.
Alliant, which was struggling to restore power to more than 10,000 customers across southern Wisconsin, issued a news release saying that some customers in the hardest-hit areas might have to wait hours for power and some would have to wait until today.
Rock Energy Cooperative spokeswoman Barb Uebelacker said 2,370 customers experienced outages starting at 2 p.m. Power had been restored to all but 300 by 8 p.m.
The cooperative covers parts of rural Rock County and fringe areas of Dane, Green and Walworth counties and northern Illinois.
The National Weather Service at 7 p.m. reported 4.5 inches of snow in Milton and 5.3 in Edgerton, but only 1.6 in Afton.
Van Galder Bus Co., which transports Janesville students, used a large sport-utility vehicle to get some students down unplowed roads, Superintendent Karen Schulte reported.
"Van Galder did an incredible job making sure every student was delivered home," Schulte said in an email.
Parents complained to The Gazette and on the district's Facebook page about the decision to keep schools open Thursday.
The decision was made at 5 a.m. Thursday "with assurance from Van Galder bus that students could be transported safely," Schulte said. "There was a concern about rural routes, but the bus company has called parents in the past to meet them to get their student."
The district allows parents to keep their children home for bad weather as long as they inform the school. Parents also are allowed to pick their children up early. An unknown number of parents exercised those options.
Students who stayed in school walked or rode home in the high winds, blowing snow and slushy streets and sidewalks.
A number of parents said the district should have closed school for the day and avoided the problem.
The district followed its school-closing procedures, which include checking with law enforcement, highway departments, a weather forecaster, the Janesville Transit System and the bus company, Schulte said.
The district never closes early for fear of students arriving home to no adult supervision. The district did cancel all after-school activities Thursday.
Rock County's plow crews were out from 4 a.m. to about 8 p.m., Thursday, said Ben Coopman, director of public works. One or two plow trucks got stuck.
"It's getting really ugly, especially on the west and northwest (sides of the county), with lots of fast-falling snow and blowing and drifting," Coopman said at 6:15 p.m.
County crews working the Interstate highways stay out all night, and a crew was on standby all night in case emergency responders needed help, Coopman said.
The main county crew was scheduled to return to plowing at 4 a.m. today.
City of Janesville plows took on residential areas around 6 p.m. Thursday in hopes of clearing streets before the waterlogged snow turned solid.
City crews were expected to be out all night Thursday into today.
The National Weather Service predicted some blowing snow before noon today and then clearing skies with a high near 23. Windy conditions were predicted to continue as the temperature drops into single digits tonight.