Widespread power outages from storms could continue through Friday as lines down, roads impassable
Some customers who lost power following Wednesday's storm could continue to be in the dark through Thanksgiving or Friday, according to Wisconsin Public Service.
At one point Wednesday afternoon, more than 50,000 people were without power after strong winds and – in some parts – heavy snow knocked down lines.
"Snow-covered, slick roads and severe weather conditions are affecting restoration efforts," WPS spokesman Brendan Conway said in a statement. "However, workers will continue working around the clock until power is restored to all customers."
Utility crews worked to restore service, and by 10 p.m. about 37,000 WPS and We Energies customers across the state remained without power.
Heavy, wet snow weighed down power lines and tree branches in northern Wisconsin, leading to the outages, said WEC Energy Group spokeswoman Amy Jahns. Further hindering efforts to restore power, some key roads were impassable, and crews could not reach outage points.
"It's slowing us down a bit to get to everyone," Jahns said.
Crews had restored power to more than 35,000 WPS customers Wednesday night since beginning work in the morning, Conway said. By 10 p.m., about 24,000 customers were without power, mostly in northern Wisconsin.
Counties with the largest number of outages included Marathon, Vilas and Oneida. In Rhinelander — population 7,700 — about 7,500 people were without power Wednesday afternoon.
WEC Energy Group is the parent company for both northern Wisconsin-based WPS and Milwaukee-based We Energies.
Of the about 11,000 without power in We Energies' coverage area at 10 p.m., about 4,000 customers were in southeastern Wisconsin. There, strong wind gusts knocked over lines and trees. We Energies recorded 25,000 without power at its peak late afternoon.
Jahns said the utility understands the unfortunate timing of the outages and asked for patience in reaching everyone.
"We are trying our best and working throughout the next day to get power restored," she said. "We know its impacting their families, and it's impacting the families of our crews."
By nightfall Alliant Energy had restored power to about 1,600 customers that went dark Wednesday. Outages were concentrated in Sheboygan and Lake Geneva.
Strong winds were recorded across the state: Kenosha, Oshkosh and Sheboygan had 46 mph gusts, Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport 47 mph, Eagle 50 mph, Marshfield 51 mph and Pleasant Prairie 54 mph.
A winter storm carrying just about every kind of precipitation slammed into Wisconsin Tuesday night and into Wednesday, one of the busiest travel days of the year.
The northern half of the received heavy snow. By Wednesday afternoon, Eagle River reported 13.8 inches of snow, Rhinelander had 9.5 inches, Merrill 8 and Chippewa Falls 7.
Holiday travel in the Fox Valley, Green Bay or Door County was easier. That area saw mostly strong winds and rain.
By Wednesday afternoon, highways north of Eau Claire, Wausau and Green Bay were snow-covered while most roads to the south had "good winter driving," according to the state Department of Transportation.
The storm largely passed out of the state by Wednesday afternoon, leaving power outages and threats of flooding in its wake.
"If you have travel plans across the northwest half of Wisconsin, southern Minnesota or much of Iowa, be sure to closely monitor later forecasts for updated information," according to the National Weather Service office in Green Bay.
In northeastern Wisconsin, a gale warning is in effect through midnight Wednesday, and a lakeshore flood advisory goes until 11 p.m. Strong northwest winds with gusts over 40 mph, and close to 50 mph across Door County, will continue into the evening before subsiding.
Flooding was becoming an issue across northeastern Wisconsin by late afternoon. In Green Bay, the break wall was underwater and water was flowing into the parking lot at the Port of Green Bay boat launch, according to the weather service.
Snow-covered roads, highways
In Wausau, the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office early Wednesday was warning people not to travel unless absolutely necessary.
“If you do not need to travel this morning, please stay home and allow the plows that are out room to address the roads,” the sheriff's office said. “If you do need to travel please exercise caution, slow down and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.”
Deputies were dealing with crashes around the county and the sheriff's office was telling drivers to slow down and move over if they encounter deputies at a crash scene.
State 29 eastbound near the Marathon-Shawano County line was closed for a time due to a crash, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
The good news?
Thanksgiving day looks to be dry, with partly to mostly cloud skies and highs from 29-37.
The chance for rain and snow returns Friday and Saturday.
Video: Holiday snowfall Green Bay Press-Gazette
Road conditions are expected to be hazardous in areas. Here are links to road condition reports: