Winter attacks with a vengeance

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Heavy snow, bitter cold and ice plague area

Warren Bluhm,

Afternoon temperatures registered by the Peshtigo National Bank sign in Oconto Falls barely topped minus-8 on Jan. 30, falling into the minus-20s on Thursday before a dramatic climb into the upper 30s Sunday. (Times Herald photos by Warren Bluhm)

Mother Nature made up for a relatively mild December and most of January by socking the area with a solid dose of winter over the last 10 days.

The barrage started with about 10 inches or more of snow that closed schools and caused numerous traffic accidents Jan. 28. One of the more serious crashes involved five vehicles along U.S. Highway 41-141 near the Oconto-Brown County line at 10 a.m. that Monday morning.

A southbound pickup truck that Oconto County sheriff’s deputies say was going too fast for conditions struck the back of a slow-moving semitrailer truck, starting a chain reaction that also damaged two sport utility vehicles and a car. None of the seven people inside the vehicles was injured, but the southbound lanes were closed for an hour and 40 minutes while officials worked to clear the scene.

In the aftermath of the storm, a record-breaking polar vortex swept in.

Temperatures reached a record low of 26 below zero at the National Weather Service office in Green Bay at 7 a.m. Thursday, the most frigid point of a 36-hour wind chill warning starting Jan. 30 when the bitter cold combined with strong winds to create dangerous conditions.

Schools, businesses and other organizations closed again Wednesday and Thursday. Although the winds died down and temperatures began to rise, lingering problems including mechanical issues with school buses led Oconto Falls and Oconto schools to keep students home through Friday as well.

The next blow came from a dramatic rise in temperatures to near 40 on Sunday — a swing of more than 65 degrees from Thursday morning to Sunday afternoon — which, while welcome, brought with it dense fog, rain and a resulting ice storm Monday that closed schools and some businesses yet again.

Area school officials will be looking at their calendars after the run of three to six snow days. Wisconsin state law requires that each school district board annually hold at least 437 hours of direct pupil instruction in kindergarten, at least 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades one through six and at least 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades seven through 12.

Most local districts have built at least four cancellations into their annual calendars before they need to consider adding class days to the end of the year or otherwise altering their schedules.