'Do not travel': Strong winds mean dangerous roads, blizzard conditions across Wisconsin
Video from the scene of a crash on I-41 in Neenah on Feb. 24, 2019. Courtesy of Dwight Nale
Strong winds and blowing snow Sunday made roads treacherous across Wisconsin, leading to multi-car pileups, interstate closures, power outages and white-out conditions.
One person died in a multi-vehicle pileup on I-41 in the town of Neenah, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. The crash involved dozens of vehicles and left the highway closed for most of the day Sunday.
The National Weather Service measured winds up to 55 miles an hour across northeast and central Wisconsin Sunday afternoon after a foot of snow fell overnight near Wausau.
Sunday's storm was Wood County's first official blizzard since 1996 — though Outagamie, Brown and Manitowoc counties saw their last blizzards in April 2018.
The National Weather Service in Ashwaubenon issued a blizzard warning through Sunday night for central Wisconsin, including the cities of Wausau, Marshfield, Wisconsin Rapids and Stevens Point.
MORE ON I-41 multiple car pileup: 1 dead in major crash on I-41 involving dozens of cars
Eastern Wisconsin did not get the blizzard designation — places like Oshkosh saw less than an inch of snow. Instead the Weather Service issued a high wind warning for Door County down to the Illinois border. Winds were as much as 60 miles an hour late Sunday afternoon at the Green Bay Austin Straubel International Airport.
A winter storm warning was in effect for Waushara, Shawano, Waupaca and Menominee counties until 6 p.m.
The strong winds made visibility less than a quarter of a mile, and interstates 41 and 43 shut down throughout the day to clear major crashes.
A video submitted by former Appleton Post-Crescent photographer Dwight Nale showed cars and semi trucks sandwiched together at the scene of the I-41 crash in the town of Neenah.
A multi-vehicle crash in Fond du Lac County involved a Sheriff's Office squad car. Some occupants had minor injuries, according to the Sheriff's Office. The Sheboygan County Sheriff's Office reported two of its squad cars were also damaged in crashes Sunday. Neither deputy was injured.
High winds cause blowing and drifting snow in Fond du Lac County. Douglas Raflik, Fond du Lac Reporter
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation said travel was not advised across most major highways Sunday in central Wisconsin, while northeast Wisconsin highways had slippery stretches, according to 511wi.gov.
The Weather Service predicted the strongest winds Sunday would be in the Fox Valley and lakeshore areas from midmorning to early evening. In central Wisconsin, an additional 1 to 3 inches of snow was predicted to fall Sunday.
“Lightweight structures such as fishing shanties and trash containers will likely be blown around. Near zero visibility is possible in any snow showers that occur along with the strong winds,” the the Weather Service said in its high wind advisory. “Driving may be especially difficult on north-south roads.”
Power outages hit hardest the central Wisconsin communities of Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids and Marshfield as well as Waupaca and Clintonville. More than 13,000 customers had no power throughout the day.
As of 2 p.m. 6,081 Alliant Energy customers were without power in the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin coverage area. Wisconsin Public Service reported 6,114 customers without power in the state. Wisconsin Rapids Power & Lights listed 1,085 without power.
Videos and photos from law enforcement agencies across the state Sunday showed whiteout conditions and icy surfaces on highways with zero visibility. They came with warnings to stay off the roads.
The Wood County Sheriff's Department posted a short video Sunday morning to its Facebook page showing officers assisting a semi truck that had gotten stuck on U.S. 10 near Auburndale, with a warning that "many more along the way are getting stuck."
“Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely. This will lead to whiteout conditions, making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel,” the blizzard warning reads.
Wisconsin DOT released a video from Lincoln County on U.S. 51, where roads had whiteout conditions.
Various communities issued orders because of the dangerous weather. Wausau, Marshfield, Merrill, Nekoosa and Wisconsin Rapids issued snow emergencies Sunday. Manitowoc County instituted a tow ban for Interstate 43, so if a car spun off the road, tow trucks would not rescue them. It is too dangerous for traffic, Manitowoc County Emergency Services said on Facebook.
After Saturday and Sunday's strong winter storm, bitter cold temperatures will arrive in the state Tuesday, according to the Weather Service.
This story will be updated throughout the day.