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Despite weather closures, it’s business as usual in most of Columbia County

January 29, 2019 GMT

Snowfall and frigid temperatures shuttered several county government buildings Monday while law enforcement officers patrolled the streets of Portage as usual.

Among the services shut down for the day were the Columbia County Courthouse and the county’s Administrative and Health and Human Services buildings in Portage.

Sheriff Roger Brandner said the local snow day was consistent with other closures countywide, but law enforcement officers, health care workers and emergency personnel continued to work because they are essential to public safety.

In an effort to reduce response times, the sheriff’s office dispatched seven deputies to patrol county roads instead of the usual four.


Brandner said snowy conditions would slow response times for authorities, but having additional deputies on the roads would help reduce those times by a few minutes and how long stranded people might be exposed to the cold.

Brandner said the county board leadership’s decision to close multiple buildings Monday resulted in up to 1,000 fewer vehicles traveling through hazardous conditions and directly correlates to fewer accidents.

“Less people traveling the roads in inclement weather like this is better for everybody,” Brandner said.

As of 10 a.m. Monday, the sheriff’s office had accounted for five slide-offs, three vehicle accidents, five calls of vehicles trapped in snow and three calls of vehicles that had broken down.

Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey said the police department noted four accidents within city limits by about 10:30 a.m. Monday.

“It just shows the importance of us being readily available to get out there and help,” Brandner said.

Portage police sergeant Ben Neumann and detective lieutenant Dan Garrigan responded to a call Monday afternoon about a man walking on the frozen-over Wisconsin River.

They called him safely back to the snow-covered shore.

The man, Troy Hughes of Portage, was searching for his lost pet cockatiel, Darwin Charles. The bird had escaped the house he shares with Tiffany Briggs.

Police watched through binoculars as fire department personnel used a hovercraft to scour for the bird, which was not found.

Part of living in Wisconsin is to expect, prepare for and adapt to inclement weather conditions as needed, Brandner said. He added that drivers should plan ahead by having extra coats or a blanket in case their vehicle breaks down.

Jail Capt. Darrel Kuhl, who also oversees emergency dispatch services, advised residents to stay off the roads if possible, but otherwise saw no issues regarding daily law enforcement procedures amid the snow and cold.


Portage community service officers Nicole Lervik and Kevin Todryk patrolled city streets and issued parking tickets Monday morning, enforcing the city’s snow emergency parking restrictions.

WISC-TV (Channel 3 in Madison) meteorologist Gary Cannalte reported Monday evening that 10.3 inches of snow had fallen on Portage.

Daytime emergency warming shelters have been set up in many Columbia County communities, as dangerously low temperatures and wind chills are forecast for the next several days.

Columbia County Emergency Management Coordinator Kathy Johnson said the shelters offer warmth and a place to sit, but not food, water, entertainment or overnight accommodations.

Anyone who needs additional services during the cold weather is invited to contact Johnson at 608-742-4166, press extension 1 and ask for the emergency management department.

For people utilizing the warming centers, the following guidelines are in place:

Bring any needed food and waterBring quiet devices – like board games, decks of cards, books and toys for children – to keep occupiedBring any needed medicationsNo pets are allowed

Johnson noted frigid weather can be particularly hazardous to children and vulnerable adults.

Older adults should be checked on regularly during cold weather, as it’s not unusual for someone to slip and fall while going outdoors, even for quick errands like retrieving mail.

Children home from school should play indoors. Weather this cold is not safe for outdoor play, Johnson said, because frostbite can appear within 5 to 10 minutes.

Johnson advised against traveling unless absolutely necessary — but for people who do go out, it’s a good idea to carry emergency supplies, including an emergency kit, a blanket or sleeping bag and extra warm clothing.

Should you see someone outdoors with clothing inadequate to protect them from the weather — or, if someone appears confused or seems to have trouble speaking — getting help for them immediately could save their lives, Johnson said.