State struggles through coldest weather in nearly two decades; Two die as car plunges into Mississippi; More state news
Wisconsin is shivering through its coldest weather in almost 18 years. Temperatures were generally in the minus teens and 20's at 4 a.m.
Hundreds of schools, businesses and government offices are closed after a cold Arctic air mass brought even colder air to Wisconsin.
Marshfield had the state's coldest wind chill at 7 a.m. – 53 below with an actual temperature of minus 25. Phillips in Price County remained the state's cold spot at seven with 30 below.
Sturgeon Bay was the state's only weather station not in the minus double digits. It was nine below in that Door County location.
Meanwhile, almost 600 We Energies' electric customers were without power this morning south of Whitewater. About 140 other customers were left in the cold and dark throughout the state.
Wisconsin Public Service restored all power to Rhinelander where 3,800 electric customers were out during the night.
Many of today's closings were announced on Friday when the deep freeze was forecast.
The Salvation Army and First Baptist Church in La Crosse were among the places providing emergency shelter to those in need.
At least some companies will have people working from their home computers today. Stephen Anderson of Madison says his software development firm will be virtual at least for the day.
Forecasters say it might be Wednesday before any place in Wisconsin gets above zero again.
Much of the U.S. is freezing. Weather officials blame it on a "polar vortex" -- a whirlpool of dense, frigid air that can be downright dangerous to be in.
In Illinois, more than a foot of new snow made driving treacherous. Folks in southeast Wisconsin had to battle the bitter cold to move up to 13 inches that fell in that region late last week.
Two die as car plunges into Mississippi
Two bodies were pulled yesterday from a car that plunged into the Mississippi River on the Minnesota side at Winona.
One victim is identified as 36-year-old Christina Hauser of Winona. The name of the other person, a 30-year-old man, was not immediately released.
Winona County sheriff's deputies were told about car tracks heading toward the river about 7:30 a.m. yesterday. Sheriff Dave Brand said an underwater camera spotted the vehicle, and it was pulled from the water around noon.
Both victims were wearing seat belts. Autopsies were planned as deputies continue to investigate the incident.
Over 1,500 homes lost power this morning
Over 1,500 electric customers in Wisconsin were without power just before 5 a.m. today as wind-chills kept plunging toward 50 below.
In Rhinelander, 3,800 Wisconsin Public Service customers had their electricity cut off during the night. By 5 a.m. that number was down to around 1,450. It was 26 below in Rhinelander at that hour with wind chills down to 49 below -- the coldest in the state.
We Energies said almost 30 customers in the Green Bay area had outages due to an equipment problem. Xcel Energy had almost 60 customers out in the Hudson and New Richmond areas. Wisconsin Power and Light reported around 20 outages.
Fans brave cold to witness disappointing Packer loss
Cheeseheads who were hoping to make history were disappointed on two fronts Sunday.
First, their beloved Green Bay Packers lost to San Francisco 23-20, making their earliest playoff exit since 2009. Also, some fans were hoping to attend their generation's version of the Ice Bowl -- and that didn't happen either.
Not even the wind chill was as cold as the actual Ice Bowl temperature of 13 below in the 1967 Packer championship victory over Dallas. Yesterday's wind chill was 11 below at kickoff with an actual reading of five above -- the seventh-coldest game since Lambeau Field opened in 1959.
Still, it was cold enough for many fans to skip their customary parking lot tailgating or else take extreme measures like tailgating near propane heaters. Many entered the stadium early and sipped free hot chocolate and coffee that the Packers provided. The Green Bay Press-Gazette said about 35,000 cups of cocoa and 5,000 cups of coffee were given away.
A 49er fan who lives about an hour north of San Francisco said he left a 68 degree day behind on Saturday to watch his team win in person. WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee spoke with a doctor from Guam who paid $3,000 to make the trip north to watch the Packers. Like thousands of others, he's going back home disappointed today.
The players said it was not cold enough to be a real factor in the game.
Forums allow public to hear from UW-System president finalists
Three finalists for the next president of the University of Wisconsin System will explain their visions for the university today.
Each candidate will have his own moderated one-hour public forum to be shown at 28 locations throughout the state -- mostly at UW campuses. Robert King, who heads the Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education, is up first at 11:30. UW Colleges and Extension Chancellor Ray Cross is next at 2:30. And Peter Garland, chief operating officer of Pennsylvania's higher education system, will begin his forum at 3:45.
A final candidate is expected to be chosen later this week. The Board of Regents will have a choice among an in-house candidate, an outsider with long academic backgrounds and a former New York politician.
King spent five years running a state university system. If Wisconsin goes the political route, it will follow schools in Indiana and California which did the same. Former Indiana governor Mitch Daniels is now the president of Purdue University, while ex-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano now runs a network of 10 University of California campuses.
Getting along with State Capitol leaders will most likely be a key priority. Lawmakers got upset last year when UW campuses were caught with millions of dollars in hidden surpluses. Also, the next president will have to deal with ongoing reductions in tax-funded state support and new online education aimed at non-traditional students. The new leader will replace Kevin Reilly.
Investigation continues into fire death
Authorities near Wausau say it might take a few months to confirm the identity of a person who died in a mobile home fire a week ago.
Everest Metro Police Chief Wally Sparks said relatives of the suspected victim will have to provide their DNA samples. He said it will take several months to get all the evidence together from a fire that broke out in Weston, east of Wausau.
Sparks said the victim appears to be the mother of two residents of the mobile home and the cause of death won't be known until full autopsy and toxicology reports come in. That normally takes a few weeks.
Initial reports indicated one person died in the fire, another escaped with a minor injury, and two other people escaped unharmed.
--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau
Cities use pesticide to fight ash-killing beetle
Wisconsin's larger cities are fighting back against the tree-killing emerald ash borer.
Since 2009, Milwaukee and Chicago have used the federally approved pesticide "TREE-age" against the invasive beetle. Milwaukee has spent around $950,000 a year on the treatment. Officials say it's a lot cheaper than the old procedure of cutting down all of the city's ash trees to keep disease from spreading.
In Milwaukee's case, it would have cost $27 million to remove all the trees. Instead, city forestry services manager David Sivyer said Milwaukee is "the envy of most communities that have" the emerald ash borer.
Madison is working on a hybrid plan after the beetle was confirmed there in November. Officials plan to cut down trees in bad condition, while treating larger ones. The cost is expected to be $1.1 million a year by 2019.
Cost is a real concern in many cities. Michigan State forestry professor Deb McCullough said some cities have a hard time budgeting tax money to protect trees while trying to keep police and fire personnel on the job.
Closed dairy plant still owes $1.6 million to former workers
It was a year ago yesterday when the Golden Guernsey dairy plant in Waukesha suddenly closed.
School districts throughout southeast Wisconsin scrambled during a weekend to find new suppliers for their students' milk.
According to state officials, employees are still owed $1.6 million in pay and benefits. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says some of the 112 former employees are owed $25,000 or more -- including vacation pay, matches for their pensions and other pay.
The workers did receive final paychecks, but a court is still deciding whether to order other penalties for allegedly violating the state's plant closing law. The law requires a 60-day notice for most closings and major layoffs.
Golden Guernsey filed for bankruptcy just days after the plant shut down. In May, a trustee arranged a sale of the company to Lifeway Foods of suburban Chicago. The company had hoped to re-open the plant by the start of the New Year and bring back at least some of the old Golden Guernsey workers. A public relations firm says the new owner now expects to finish its re-opening preparations by the end of the month.
Sen. Johnson plans Obamacare lawsuit
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson says he'll file a lawsuit today against a provision in Obamacare, even though one of his fellow Wisconsin Republicans calls it an "unfortunate political stunt."
Menomonee Falls Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner said Johnson should not challenge a rule that lets members of Congress and their staffs keep getting the same health benefits as other federal employees.
Sensenbrenner takes issue with Johnson's claim that Congress is giving itself special treatment. He said the benefits are no different than what the president and federal employees get.
The Affordable Care Act requires House and Senate members and their staffs to buy their health coverage on the Obamacare exchanges. However, taxpayers are still covering about three-fourths of the bill, and Johnson says that's wrong.
Johnson said Congress made a "covenant" with the American people by subjecting themselves to Obamacare. He says lawmakers and their staffs should pay for it themselves, just like many of their constituents.
Sensenbrenner said if Johnson wins his suit, "Congress will lose some of its best staff."
Johnson said he's "disappointed and puzzled" by Sensenbrenner's position.
H1N1 flu is back
The virus that caused a swine flu pandemic in Wisconsin four years ago has made a comeback, but doctors at the Marshfield Clinic say it’s not nearly as prevalent as it was in 2010.
Still, Dr. Edward Belongia says the H1N1 virus has become the predominant flu strain in the region this winter. It’s among the strains that are covered in this winter’s flu vaccine. As of last Thursday, Wisconsin has had almost 400 flu-related hospitalizations in the current season.
Wood County health nurse Diane Rodd told Gannett’s Central Wisconsin Sunday newspaper that the flu has disproportionately affected young adults. About 36% of the state’s hospitalizations were for 18- to 49-year-olds. That’s been the most of any age group. Thirty cases were so severe, that the patients wound up in intensive care units.
Former teacher still in rehab
A former Rhinelander High School teacher is spending another month in custody and four years on probation on convictions for thefts and illegal drugs.
Joshua Juergens, 35, is serving his time at a local drug treatment facility where he has spent the last two months. He struck a plea deal last fall in which he was convicted on four charges -- most of them reduced -- while four others were dropped.
Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek said Juergens has a "very significant substance abuse problem."
He was arrested last September after a disturbance at his home. Authorities noticed computer equipment missing from Rhinelander High where Juergens was an English teacher until he was fired after his arrest. He had been an English teacher there since last fall.
A search warrant uncovered a marijuana-growing operation with 66 plants, plus illegal prescription drugs and paraphernalia. Juergens also admitted stealing his landlord's pontoon boat and a log splitter which he sold to support his drug habit.
Juergens apologized at his sentencing. After the plea deal, his only felony conviction was for manufacturing marijuana.
--Ken Krall, WXPR, Rhinelander