Bitter temperatures were felt across the Tomah area this week.
The National Weather Service reported that wind chills reached as low as minus 30 to minus 45 degrees Wednesday afternoon and “dangerous, life-threatening cold” would continue into Thursday.
Due to the frigid temperatures Tomah Area School District closed all schools Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Schools were also closed Monday due to 10 inches of snow from Sunday and Monday.
Greg Gaarder, TASD business manager, said numerous factors are taken into consideration when deciding to close schools, and they involve more than just transportation. He said the weather forecast and what neighboring school districts are doing also play a part.
“Somebody’s up at 4:30 a.m. to make a decision by 5 a.m. because the first bus is picking up at 6 a.m.,” he said. “The problem is weather seems to really change between the hours of 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. There are significant changes in weather in that time period. What we see at 5 a.m. can be very different than what we see at 6 a.m., 7 a.m., 8 a.m.”
Sometimes the wrong decision is made, Gaarder said, but school district officials try their best to accurately assess the situation.
“We base it on what we see at that time ... looking at the radar or what’s going on east or west and what’s predicted by the forecast, because if we’re going to err on the side of caution, it means we’re going to be wrong sometimes,” he said.
Gaarder said deciding to close in cold weather isn’t as complicated because temperature forecasts are more accurate. He said the district was able to make its decision on Thursday’s classes by early Wednesday.
“I suspect other schools are probably doing the same thing,” he said. “We looked at the weather forecast, and I can’t emphasize enough that we have kids walking to school, and it’s not just high school kids and middle school kids but sometimes younger children walking. Then on top of that our buses start pickup at 6 a.m. and are on the road for an hour and a half … I drove to Eau Claire (Wednesday) and saw half a dozen semis on the side of the road because their fuel was gelling. There’s not a lot of forgiveness with 30-below temperatures.”
Residents of the city appeared to be erring on the side of caution as well Wednesday.
Tomah Memorial Hospital, marketing and public relations director Eric Prise said patient activity in the hospital’s emergency room as been less than normal.
“People are heeding the warnings and staying at home during this bitter cold weather,” he said.
Lt. Ron Waddell of the Tomah Police Department said there were no incidents reported due to the cold temperatures other than people calling and saying they can’t get their vehicle started to comply with alternate side parking.
“We had a few minor accidents, but we have those when the weather is normal,” he said. “Thankfully we’ve had no situations here with people caught outside in the extreme cold for an amount of time and suffering from frostbite or hypothermia.”
Waddell recommends that people make sure their vehicles are in good working condition if they venture out during the bitter cold weather.
“Make sure batteries have enough cold starting amps and to ensure that tires are properly inflated − that helps to control vehicles on the roadway, and have more than a half a tank of gas in case of an issue of getting stuck in a snow bank or something similar,” he said. “Outside of that the best thing to do is to limit unnecessary travel … and stay inside and keep warm.”
Mail delivery was suspended Wednesday in most of the upper Midwest, including Tomah.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation issued a warning to be on the lookout for black ice, a thin layer of transparent ice that forms as melting snow refreezes on roads and bridges. The road may appear wet or look as if there’s no hazard at all, the department said.
Motorists should be especially cautious at traditional black ice trouble spots such as underpasses, in areas where trees shade the road, at intersections or on interchange ramps.