Weird wintry April taking its toll
By Collin Lueck
The Merrill area has seen nearly four feet of snowfall in the past 30 days, including a new record total for the month of April. The area has seen more snow in April than we had all through December, January and February combined.
This past weekend’s snowstorm dropped 18.5” of snow on the Merrill area, with wind gusts up to 33 mph. According to WJFW Newswatch 12 meteorologist Geoff Weller, this is the snowiest April on record at Wausau with 34.5” of snowfall so far. Last weekend’s storm also has the distinction of being the second largest snowstorm on record at Wausau, where 20.7” was recorded, surpassed only by the 22.1” that fell March 5-6, 1959.
The extraordinary snow conditions are impacting just about everyone in the area.
The Merrill Street Department burned a lot of overtime hours over the weekend with crews out Saturday from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday from 4 a.m.-7 p.m., and back out on the streets at midnight on Sunday.
“We had to plow Monday for a third time,” said Street Superintendent Dustin Bonack.
On Monday night, efforts switched to snow removal, which continued Tuesday.
“It’s taken us twice as long as a normal storm,” Bonack said.
Finding places to put all that snow has been a challenge, Bonack said, as the ground has already thawed at the city’s usual snow dump sites. Some of those sites are on private property, so out of courtesy to those landowners, the Street Department has been restricted to hauling snow only to sites the city owns.
With the record snowfall in April, other spring tasks are taking a back seat for the Street Department. Crack sealing, for example, normally gets underway in April and is done by mid-May.
“We haven’t even thought about doing that yet,” Bonack said.
School was cancelled Monday, unusually late in the school year to call a snow day, noted MAPS Superintendent Dr. John Sample.
“While we know that anything can happen during the early part of Spring, the severity of this storm is unusual,” Sample said.
Students now have to make up one school day in order to meet the minimum number of instructional minutes required by DPI. Teachers also have an additional make up day.
“The solution for establishing the dates of these make up days will go before the Board on Wednesday, April 18,” Sample said. “The solution may or may not include the students making up the day at the end of the school year. It might involve swapping out a teacher professional development day prior to the end of the school year which will result in no additional days beyond June 6 for students.”
Merrill Park & Recreation should be getting the parks and athletic fields ready for spring, noted Director Dan Wendorf. Instead, parks crews were out snowblowing on Monday.
“When it snows, that comes first,” he said.
With about 20 inches of snow still on the ground, the official opening day for Merrill’s parks is May 1, just two weeks away.
“We’re used to seeing a little bit of snow in April, but not two and a half weeks of deep winter weather,” Wendorf said. “I can’t remember it ever being this winter-like for so long.”
With the high school varsity outdoor sports schedules already backed up, Wendorf doesn’t expect Athletic Park or the softball fields at the MARC to be in playing condition for another two weeks.
“It’s frustrating for everybody,” Wendorf said.
With the high school outdoor spring sports schedules getting backed up since the beginning of April, teams are anxious to get on the fields.
“The long winter could be really draining mentally,” Merrill High School softball head coach Matt Ellenbecker said. “The kids work hard to play ball and compete, and the weather just hasn’t allowed that. We have been lucky enough to get three games in. Some teams are still waiting to get out on a field. It is too bad that we won’t get all the time to practice out at the MARC that we typically would. This group in particular really enjoys that, I think.”
Outdoor sports of a different kind are also feeling the weird wintry weather. Spring turkey hunting got underway during the snowstorm last weekend with the youth hunt.
While the birds will continue to exhibit their usual mating behavior for this time of year, local DNR wildlife biologist Janet Brehm noted that it may be more of a challenge for hunters to locate birds given the deep snow.
As the weather warms up, flooding becomes a possibility later this week, Weller said.
“Flooding will be a risk this weekend,” he said. “The snow to liquid ratio with this system was very high, meaning there was a high moisture content to the snow. With a partially frozen ground, warmer temperatures on the way and a lot of snow to melt, river flooding is a distinct possibility this weekend in the usual low lying spots.”