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Coulee Region winter edges into 'severe' category (as if we didn't know)


This Coulee Region winter just nudged its way into the “severe” category after being so meek in November, December and half of January that it was barely worth a mention in the diary of a wimpy kid.

Of course, most folks in the Coulee Region don’t need somebody to tell them the snow and cold has been brutal for the past several weeks, but the Midwest Regional Climate Center’s conclusion makes it official.

La Crosse stepped over the 995-point threshold between average and severe on Tuesday, and ticked a few more notches into severe territory through Wednesday, according to the center’s Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index. The center created the AWSSI to provide an objective barometer to judge the seasons throughout the country.

“The winter was truncated,” said Pete Boulay, a Department of Natural Resources climatologist at the Minnesota State Climatology Office in St. Paul.

“It started off mild, but it’s funny how much loss was made up from Jan. 15 on,” said Boulay, who also has fashioned an index of his own that factors in a full century of data, compared with the regional center’s tally going back a mere 70 years or so.

“It makes sense, the severity. I can agree with that” by any measure, he said.

“The question, ‘How severe was this winter?’ does not have a simple answer,” according to the regional center’s website. “At the very least, the severity of a winter is related to the intensity and persistence of cold weather, the amount of snow, and the amount and persistence of snow on the ground.”

As of Wednesday, La Crosse’s index was 1,029, compared with the region’s most severe of 1,558 at this point and the lowest of 411. The area was in the 400 range on Jan. 27, but the polar vortex and the unrelentingly repetitive snowfalls since then sent it into a trajectory that tracks at about a 45-degree rise.

The regional center, in Champaign, Ill., tracks conditions in 52 locations throughout the country and produces an interactive map that allows people to track each one on the website and compare cities.

For example, even though the Twin Cities’ number as of Wednesday was 1,120 — almost 100 points higher than La Crosse’s — Minneapolis and St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs remain mired in an average winter. That mediocrity is despite the fact that its winter has been more severe than La Crosse’s, and the home of the Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings is girding itself for up to 10 inches this weekend.

That’s not to say the Vikings are mediocre; rather, that’s up to Green Bay Packers to decide. Green Bay’s score, by the way, is 969 so far — also average for the time of year.

By contrast, Caribou, Maine, nearly the northernmost point on the Midwest chart, is at 2,132, on the high end of extreme and within a snowball’s throw of its record of 2,252.

The daily tallies are based on scores assigned to temperature, snowfall and snow depth thresholds but not wind chills. Imagine what the Coulee Region score would be if scattered blizzard conditions of late were factored in.

La Crosse’s first measurable snowfall this year was on Oct. 14, which the National Weather Service said was nearly a month earlier than the average. The NWS total so far is 50.2 inches at the La Crosse Regional Airport, making it the sixth-snowiest on record and just a few tenths short of fifth. This season includes as record-setting 31.1 inches during February.

The regional center isn’t a group of geeks who just like to crunch numbers, although that’s an important part of their job. Rather, it came up with the gauges to help various locations objectively determine the impacts on snow removal, commerce and transportation in all sorts of businesses and industries.

Boulay found the inspiration for his calculations, which he calls a Snow and Cold Index, in charts the St. Paul Pioneer Press used to produce. The newspaper’s tally was called the Pain in the Posterior Index.

The editor who compiled those numbers included solar figures that no longer are available, Boulay said, adding, “I took the spirit of it.”

Ex-Trump campaign boss Manafort sentenced to 47 months

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (TNS) — Paul Manafort, who managed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign for part of 2016, was sentenced Thursday to 47 months in prison for financial crimes that were prosecuted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III could have sent the 69-year-old veteran Republican operative to prison for the rest of his life, but he rejected the recommended sentence of 19 to 24 years, under federal guidelines, calling it excessive.

A high-flying lobbyist and consultant before he joined Trump’s campaign, Manafort was brought into court in a wheelchair, wearing his jail-issued green jumpsuit. He appeared more frail than in August, when a federal jury convicted him of eight charges of tax evasion and bank fraud.

Near the end of a 3 1/2-hour court hearing, Manafort appealed to Ellis for compassion and said he felt “humiliated and ashamed” by his conduct. He thanked the judge for “a fair trial.”

“The last two years have been the most difficult that my family and I have experienced,” he said.

Ellis described Manafort’s crimes as “very serious” and said his tax evasion represented “a theft of money from everyone that pays their taxes.” He also expressed surprise that Manafort did not express more regret when he addressed the court.

“I hope you reflect on that,” he said.

Because Manafort has already been in jail for the last nine months, his sentence means he would only serve an additional 38 months. He was sent to jail last summer when U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing a related case in Washington, D.C., decided he revoked his bail by reaching out to potential witnesses.

Jackson is scheduled to sentence Manafort at another hearing Wednesday. He has pleaded guilty to two related charges of conspiracy in that case.

All the criminal charges against Manafort stemmed from his work on behalf of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government, although some of the crimes continued while he also managed Trump’s campaign for several months in 2016.

During his trial, prosecutors detailed how Manafort used a network of offshore bank accounts and other schemes to avoid paying millions of dollars in federal income taxes.

When his client, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, was overthrown in a popular uprising in 2014, Manafort turned to bank fraud to maintain an opulent lifestyle that included custom tailored clothes, seven homes and luxury cars.

Mueller’s team initially focused on Manafort as part of its investigation into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with a Russian intelligence operation that sought to sway the 2016 election to Trump, using stolen emails and disinformation on social media.

In June 2016, Manafort joined Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, in a meeting in Trump Tower in Manhattan with a woman identified to them as a “Russian government attorney.”

Before the meeting, when an intermediary’s email said the lawyer would present dirt on Clinton “as part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Trump Jr. replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.”

No charges have been filed in connection with the meeting, and Trump’s allies have said no incriminating information was provided. Trump’s critics have said the campaign should have called the FBI to report the Russian offer.

Two months later, Manafort and Trump’s deputy campaign chairman, Richard Gates, met with Konstantin Kilimnik at a posh New York cigar bar.

Mueller’s prosecutors later disclosed in court papers that Kilimnik “has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.”

Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik, then lied about it even after he agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

Those lies and others led to the implosion of Manafort’s plea deal, which he reached after he was convicted in northern Virginia. The deal had required him to cooperate truthfully with the special counsel’s office.

Prosecutors had urged the judge to impose a tough sentence.

Greg Andres, a prosecutor from the special counsel’s office, said Manafort “broke the basic civic covenant of citizens in this democracy” by failing to pay his taxes.

“Nobody made up these crimes,” he added. “He made criminal choices.”

Manafort’s lawyers argued in a sentencing memo before Thursday’s hearing that “the special counsel’s attempt to vilify Mr. Manafort as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts.”

They also suggested that prosecutors pressured Manafort to provide evidence against the president in the Russia investigation, and urged the judge to spare him jail time.

Mueller’s “strategy in bringing charges against Mr. Manafort had nothing to do with the special counsel’s core mandate — Russian collusion — but was instead designed to ‘tighten the screws’ to compel Mr. Manafort to cooperate and provide incriminating information about others,” the lawyers wrote.

Trump has repeatedly said that his former campaign chairman was treated unfairly by prosecutors, and he’s left open the possibility of pardoning him before he leaves office.

As the jury in Virginia was considering a verdict last summer, Trump told reporters at the White House that “it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”


Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the Federal District Court after a hearing May 23, 2018 in Washington. Manafort was sentenced Thursday to 47 months in prison.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Central High School's Johnny Davis celebrates a basket in the first half of a Division 2 sectional semifinal Thursday night at the Logan High School fieldhouse. Central won 54-51. 

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Evers approves batch of UW-L projects: Governor's capital budget proposal includes $161 million for UW-L

Gov. Tony Evers has given the green light to $161 million worth of projects at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, including the second phase of the university’s new science center.

The governor’s capital budget proposal, released on Thursday, would fund $2.5 billion of the $3.4 billion requested by agencies across the state. Projects range from deferred maintenance, to new construction, to preservation of state parks and forests.

It is a largely favorable budget for UW-L, which would get $83 million in state funding for phase two of the Prairie Springs Science Center, along with nearly $30 million for renovations to Graff, Coate and Sanford Halls.

Evers also approved the construction of a $49 million field house at UW-L, a project that would be funded by student fees.

“We’re very grateful and pleased that the governor sees the importance of these projects for our campus, in particular phase two of Prairie Springs,” UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow said. Phase one of the project, the construction of a 187,000-square-foot lab building, was completed last summer. Phase two calls for the demolition and replacement of Cowley Hall, which houses classrooms and faculty offices.

If all goes according to plan, officials say, construction would begin in late 2021 and wrap up in 2023.

“These facilities will be here for a long time,” Gow said. “It’s exciting to keep our campus growing and strong.”

Rep. Jill Billings (D-La Crosse), in a statement applauding Evers’ proposal, said she was especially pleased to see the governor’s support for Prairie Springs.

“I’ve toured and seen ventilation systems in science labs literally held together with duct tape,” she said. “Governor Evers’ capital budget makes investment in areas of most need and leverages private funding sources to the benefit of the state.”

The field house, which would sit to the east of Roger Harring Stadium, would include a 200-meter indoor track, locker and training rooms, and academic space. It would be funded by a $132 bump in annual student fees.

Graff Main Hall, meanwhile, would get a new heating and cooling system, while Coate and Sanford residence halls would be renovated with an eye toward functionality, efficiency and building code compliance.

The lone UW-L project that Evers did not support was the construction of a $41 million residence hall that, like the field house, would have been funded by students.

There’s a slim chance the State Building Commission will tack that project onto the budget; otherwise, the university must wait until 2021 to try again.

“Where questions arise on the part of legislators is the concern about borrowing,” Gow said. “Collectively, if every campus got a residence hall, you’d be borrowing a lot of money. People are also looking at demographic trends that show the growth in high school graduates won’t be as strong moving forward.

“But we think UW-L is a special case. If we maintain our enrollment, a third of our students will be living in overflow housing. We feel it would be a wise investment.”

Gow would not speculate about how much support the projects might have in the Senate and Assembly, saying only that “I hope the legislators … share the governor’s assessment of how important these projects are to a campus like ours.”

Altogether, Evers approved $1.1 billion in capital requests across the UW System, $500 million of which would come from state-funded borrowing.

In the 2017-19 state budget, the system received $483 million of the $713 million it had requested.

“We appreciate that the Governor recognizes many of the challenges in facility repair, renovation, and replacement that the University of Wisconsin System is facing,” Ray Cross, system president, said in a statement. “Our challenges are significant as we seek to update antiquated buildings and systems to ensure the safe and modern learning environment students expect.”