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Storms rake Portage area; damage minor in city but Endeavor area hit harder

August 29, 2018

Cellphones blared out emergency signals for the second time in less than 24 hours as a massive storm system tore through the region Tuesday afternoon.

The first of a series of warnings went out just before 3 p.m., issuing a tornado warning in Sauk County, followed by flash flood warnings. The Portage Police Department and Portage Fire Department dispatched throughout the city despite limited visibility and inundated streets.

The Marquette County Sheriff’s Office received reports of storm damage primarily in Packwaukee and Endeavor.

“The kids said it felt like an earthquake,” said Lori Johnson, who was at home in Endeavor with her two children when the wind took down a tree in her front yard. The tree covered the yard, driveway and street in front of the house, according to Johnson, but just missed both the house, garage and a vehicle, landing on the garbage bins.

“The phones kept going off and the emergency alerts kept coming,” Johnson said, “but it didn’t seem like it was going to get that bad.”

Around Endeavor, there are downed trees and signs, according to Johnson, such as the sign at Royal Bank.

The National Weather Service reported possible tornado damage in a swath extending from southern Marquette County across Green Lake County and into Fond du Lac County. Storms knocked down trees and power lines in that area Tuesday afternoon. Meteorologist J.J. Wood with the National Weather Service in Sullivan said he was not aware of any injuries.

Portage police officers responded to a handful of washouts and vehicle problems, though, by early estimates, no significant property damage.

In one case, MacFarlane Street was flooded at West Wisconsin Street. A driver tried pushing through, according to Portage Assistant Police Chief Keith Klafke, but stalled out in the thigh-deep water, then was assisted by people who arrived in kayaks to help push.

By early evening, the rain had stopped and water was receding. Jeff Grothman, owner of Jeff’s Tire at that intersection, was able to watch it come and go, pointing to a line on the cement in front of his shop as the high-water mark of the afternoon. As he was talking about it, the water, which had then been shin-deep, had all but disappeared into the drain.

The section of New Pinery Road between East Albert Street and Oneida Street running beneath the railroad bridge was closed until a Portage utility crew could get to the nearby sump station. Drainage was delayed as the sump station just up the hill overflowed, with water blasting out in a shoulder-high geyser. It eventually drained.

Railway traffic was halted during the storm due to a washout in Mauston, according to Canadian Pacific Railway spokesman Andrew Cummings. As of Tuesday evening, crews were working to restore service.

Many Columbia County residents were woken up Monday night by a tornado warning just before midnight.

“We usually get about three or four of these big rain events a years and it is somewhat of a standard procedure,” Columbia County Highway Commissioner Chris Hardy said Tuesday, with no significant damage or road closures to report. “Fortunately this year, everything has been just to the north of us or down in Dane County.”

Overnight, Columbia County only received between 1.5 and 2 inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service.

“We do issue (warnings) if the radar does indicate it, and in that case the radar indicated it, but sometimes the conditions are OK,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Marcia Cronce. ”There were a couple reports of trees and power lines down just a couple miles east of Wisconsin Dells.”

On Tuesday morning, the Wisconsin River edged into the “action” stage of 12.7 feet, predicted by the NWS to approach the minor flood stage of 17 feet, cresting at 16.5 feet on Thursday afternoon.

“The river of interest is the Kickapoo River,” Cronce said. “Between La Crosse and Wisconsin Dells there was an area of upwards of 10 inches (of rain) and they have some major flash flooding problems going on in Vernon, Monroe and La Crosse counties. It really hit them hard and they got a lot of rain.”

Overall, the region has seen rising rivers and lakes, according to Cronce, increasing risks that more rain can result in road closures and other problems.

In the event of continued rain, Hardy said that he will be keeping an eye on the Blackhawk Road neighborhood on the southern edge of Portage, which is most prone to flooding, but as of Tuesday morning, open along all roadways.

The National Weather Service was predicting a high likelihood of thunderstorms through Tuesday night and a 30 percent chance of heavy rains today.

Columbia County Emergency Management Director Kathy Johnson released a statement on Tuesday announcing that a slow, no-wake order on lakes and rivers has been issued and that free sand and sandbags are available at the county highway shop on Old Highway 16.

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