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Many in Wisconsin stay home, avoid dangerous cold

  • Article by: SCOTT BAUER
  • Associated Press
  • January 6, 2014 - 8:40 PM

MADISON, Wis. — The coldest conditions to hit Wisconsin in nearly 20 years kept most school children at home on Monday, while many other residents wrapped themselves in scarves, put on extra mittens and bundled up to brave wind chills lower than 50 below zero in some parts of the state.

The extreme cold forced hundreds of schools, government offices and businesses to close. And with little let-up in sight, schools already started announcing before noon on Monday that they would remain closed Tuesday.

Weather problems elsewhere in the country also led to dozens of flight delays and cancellations at the Milwaukee and Madison airports.

But despite those headaches, and isolated other problems associated with the coldest air in Wisconsin since 1996, there were no reports of widespread emergencies.

"So far, so good," said Tod Pritchard, spokesman for Wisconsin Emergency Management. There were scattered reports of water main breaks and frozen pipes, as well as a brief power outage in Lafayette County, but power was quickly restored and no one had to be relocated, Pritchard said.

Those who did have to work on Monday tried to limit their time outside in the biting wind that pushed wind chills to negative 55 degrees in Eagle River and Rhinelander in northeastern Wisconsin. The air temperature was negative 13 in Milwaukee and negative 18 in Madison by mid-morning, and temperatures were not forecast to improve more than a few degrees as the day progressed.

"Cover every piece of skin and lots of layers," plumber Stan Conrow, 49, advised, as he hustled across the street at the University of Wisconsin student union in Madison. Conrow is on site working on the union renovation and expansion project, but he was not venturing outside Monday except to unload trucks.

"We're staying inside; that's how we stay warm," he laughed as he walked to a meeting in the construction office.

There were few signs of pedestrians around the state Capitol, normally a bustling center of downtown Madison. Those who did emerge from buildings or their cars hustled to their destinations.

A fire alarm did force a brief evacuation of a state office building about a block from the Capitol on Monday morning. But that was due to burnt popcorn, not anything related to the sub-zero temperatures.

Business was slow at the Daily Scoop, an ice cream stand inside the UW student union. Ice cream stand workers Scott Nyberg said he anticipated business would be "almost nil" given the cold.

"Maybe somebody will want to prove they're macho and eat a cone outside," he joked.

Many businesses closed, while others tried to take advantage of the conditions.

Restaurant Muramoto in downtown Madison announced it would "surrender to the might of Mother Nature" and shut its doors Monday.

Madison record store Strictly Discs took another approach, encouraging customers not working Monday to "spend it in a warm record store." It offered a storewide discount of 1 percent off for every degree below zero.

The Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee offered $1 hot chocolate with proceeds benefiting the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative.

Shelters expanded hours in locations around the state, providing cots, blankets, food and a warm place to stay for those in need.

© 2014 Star Tribune