Middleton Bears Brunt of First Major Snowstorm in Two Years

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
Mary Jo Ayers contributed this photo of a tree, located on the 1300 Block of Stratford Court, that succumbed to last week’s storm.

A massive white tempest set up shop in Middleton on Wednesday of last week and didn’t leave town until Friday morning. Multiple media outlets reported that Middleton experienced markedly heavier snowfall than many of its neighbors during the storm, with estimates hovering at around 19 inches when it was all said and done.

Middleton Police Chief Brad Keil said that, despite the size of the blizzard, there were no serious accidents within city limits and the Emergency Operations Center at the police station was not forced to open.

“Since 9:30 p.m. Wednesday evening our officers, and the community services manager, responded to 47 assist motorist calls for vehicles that were stuck in the roadway or slid off of the road into ditches or drifts,” Keil reported late Friday morning. “We responded to multiple calls of trees or branches … blocking the roadway, three motor vehicle accident calls, two calls of damage to vehicles in parking lots where branches and/or trees had fallen on vehicles, and two calls [for] wires down across the road.”

Keil said dangerous road conditions prevented many officers and dispatchers from either driving to work or driving home from work. Several either slept at police headquarters on Donna Drive or at the EMS building on Parmenter Street.  

Many worked multiple shifts in order to help maintain minimum staffing levels, according to Keil. Some worked up to 16 hours straight. The police chief went on to say  he was pleased by cooperation between his department and others in the Good Neighbor City, including Public Works, Public Lands, Fire and EMS. 

“We were able get roads and intersections cleared in a timely manner in order to get stranded motorists moving or, in the case of the fire department, get them out of their cars and moved to a safe location,” he said. “Our citizens should be pleased with the hard work and dedication of our city employees during this snow incident.”

Keil added that the Middleton Fire District responded to multiple calls outside the city, and that many of their volunteers brought in personal snowmobiles that allowed them to respond to emergencies that would be otherwise inaccessible.

Middleton Fire Chief Aaron Harris said his department responded to 17 emergency incidents “along with numerous citizen assists, [including] shoveling out driveways, freeing stranded cars [and] clearing blocked vent pipes.” The Middleton Fire District had as many as 23 volunteers staffing in-house with a multitude of additional volunteers on standby during the storm.

During events such as this, MIFD personnel generally assist by bringing in personal all terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and 4x4 trucks. The MIFD plow truck, operated by Assistant Chief Gary Gillitzer, was utilized on numerous occasions throughout the district to gain emergency access to citizens in medical distress and to guide the transporting ambulances from Cross Plains, Waunakee and Middleton to their various destinations. 

Harris praised everyone who helped out within the fire district during the storm. “Over this three day blizzard event I’m left in awe as I witnessed first hand the combined emergency services efforts of the Middleton Police Department, Dane County Sheriffs Deputies, Dane County 911 Dispatch Center, Middleton Paramedics, Cross Plains Fire Department, Cross Plains EMS, Waunakee EMS, Middleton Department of Public Works, Dane County Highway Department and the Town of Middleton, Westport and Springfield road crews,” Harris said Friday. “As the storm passed it became clear to me that the consolidated proactive/reactive efforts put forth by everyone, citizens included, is what made the overall response to this winter emergency a success.”

Staff at Middleton City Hall reported snow removal crews began clearing roads when the storm hit, working until 5 p.m. Thursday. They were back on the roadways again at 2 a.m. Friday

In the nearby Town of Middleton, clerk Sara Ludke said workers teamed up with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office to clear roads.

“Our road crew has been out working continuously trying to clear the roads,” Ludke wrote in an email to residents on Friday. “Providing access to emergency personnel has been [a] top priority [as] several residents are dealing with a gas leak and power outages.  We have all available employees, along with additional resources including tractors and end-loaders clearing the streets as fast as possible.”

Town administrator David Shaw put it simply: “Obviously, with almost 20 inches of snow, we have faced some real challenges getting to everyone’s driveway and we want to thank all of you for your patience.  We have all five of our trucks, plus a large tractor and an end-loader out to get the snow taken care of as quickly as possible.”  

The storm caused most schools and businesses to close, as well as altering some trash and recycling pickup times. However, the Middleton Community Orchestra reported strong audience turnout Wednesday night at the Middleton Performing Arts Center despite the gathering storm, according to orchestra co-founder Mindy Taranto.

Casey Slaughter Becker, the communications specialist for Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, said the storm made many county roads impassible, downing power lines and trees as it howled across the region. Parisi said the Dane County 911 Center experienced a nearly 60 percent increase in call volume Thursday.

“Heavy snow has fallen throughout the day and didn’t change to rain as initially forecast[ed],” said Parisi last week. “Those snows combined with high winds have left many east-west roads difficult to drive on and in some cases impassable due to drifting.”

Parisi said the state of emergency declaration that went into effect would allow the county to seek federal disaster reimbursement for recovery costs related to the blizzard. Dane County shut down non-essential services and offices through Friday. With the holiday this week, that meant normal county operations were scheduled to resume Wednesday, December 26.

An array of county highways were still impassible well into Friday, including Highway Q from Middleton to Waunakee, where abandoned vehicles littered the sides of the roadway.

Middleton EMS director Steve Wunsch said his department responded to nine calls during the storm, including one for cold exposure suffered by a stranded motorist. 

“Overall it went very well,” said Wunsch. “Volume-wise there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but there were still – and this always puzzles me – some people who didn’t have to be out on the roads but decided to drive anyway. We had roads where snowdrifts were so high they were over the tops of the plows. For some reason some citizens decided to try them in their front wheel drive cars. They got stuck, and we had to go try to get them out safely.”

Wunsch urged citizens to heed warnings to stay home whenever future winter storms come rolling into Middleton.



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