Portage gets first significant snowfall of season

January 24, 2019

Aaron Jahncke didn’t daydream about sledding or skiing as he shoveled the snow in front of Portage city hall Wednesday morning.

He had too much to do.

“I loved the snow when I was in my 20s,” the city’s director public works and city engineer said. “I’ll probably love the snow again after I retire.”

According to the National Weather Service in Milwaukee, Portage received about 4.5 inches of snow from Tuesday morning into Wednesday afternoon, though Jahncke estimated the total snowfall as being closer to the 6.5 inches reported in Madison.

Either way, it marked the first significant snowfall of the winter season for Portage and required the city to declare its first “snow emergency” in two winters.

The city declared a snow emergency for downtown at midnight Wednesday, for the city’s snow routes at 2 a.m. and for local roads at 5 a.m. The city staggers the schedule to give people a chance to get their cars off the roads, Jahncke said.

Last winter Portage avoided snow emergencies largely because of good timing.

“If the snow happens overnight and we know it will be 30 degrees the next day, then we won’t call a snow emergency,” Jahncke said.

Jahncke said the snow emergency in Portage expired for all areas at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Seven public works employees plowed the city’s streets beginning at midnight Wednesday, when there was only about an inch of snow, Jahncke said. He expected they would be completely finished plowing by about 7 a.m. Thursday.

The Columbia County Highway Department also expected to keep clearing snow from its 51 plow sections through Thursday morning, said Supervisor Bill Statz.

“The rural roads won’t be very good until the end of Wednesday, but we’ll get everyone home,” Statz said Wednesday morning. “Right now our interstate system is passable, but please use caution because you can’t go 70 mph out there.”

Columbia County Sheriff’s Office reported five slide-offs and two accidents that occurred in the county from about midnight until 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Portage schools were closed due to weather conditions for the second consecutive day Wednesday, while other area school closures included Pardeeville, Baraboo, Cambria-Friesland, Fall River, Lodi, Montello, Poynette, Randolph, Rio, Wisconsin Dells and Westfield. Madison Area Technical College-Portage was closed until 1 p.m.

“It’s always difficult to make the decision close schools,” said Portage Superintendent Margaret Rudolph, “but we always need to focus on the safety of students and our staff.”

Bartels Middle School seventh-grader Tyler Zabler pointed out that Portage students already had Monday off for a teacher in-service, leaving Zabler feeling like he was on an extended vacation Wednesday.

“I actually was kind of disappointed when I heard school was canceled,” he admitted while taking a break from removing snow outside of his family’s home on Silver Lake Drive. “It’s been so long that I kind of want to see my friends. Right now school is the only place I can hang out with them because of where they live.”

As he shoveled near his residence on Dunn Street, Portage resident and artist Lelan Gimnick said he enjoyed everything about Wednesday’s snowfall. The Wisconsin native had moved to Portage from Louisiana in April 2017 after about a 20-year hiatus from winters.

“I’d been waiting all night for it to hurry up and get here,” said Gimnick. “I want to walk around and take pictures, which I plan to do as soon as I get done shoveling.”

According to the Weather Channel, Portage is expected to receive another 3 to 5 inches of snow on Monday. Single-digit high temperatures are expected Friday and Sunday.

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