Blowing snow leads to dangerous conditions, crashes on I-41 Lake Butte des Morts bridge


    Blowing snow is seen on the bridge carrying Interstate 41 over Lake Butte des Morts in Oshkosh Jan. 29, 2019. (Photo source: Wisconsin DOT)

    OSHKOSH (WLUK) -- Sub-zero temperatures are preventing road crews from fully de-icing area highways.

    The Winnebago County Sheriff's Office advises drivers to look for alternate routes because of blowing snow on the bridge over Lake Butte des Morts one day after Winter Storm Beth. Multiple crashes took place on the bridge on Tuesday.

    Because the weather was cold during the storm, the 10.2 inches of snow that fell Monday was light and fluffy, and can be easily blown around. Extreme cold in the coming days should prevent the snow from melting or compacting.

    A FOX 11 crew headed south took this video from the passenger seat of a vehicle prior to the advisory from the sheriff's office:


    Snow, a lake and the bridge that sits on top of it: A recipe for disaster when you combine snow, wind, and frozen air.

    “We know that bridges ice much faster than any other area over land, so you kinda put that together and it just kinda is a perfect storm,” said Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Lara Vendola-Messer said.

    The sheriff’s office says the Lake Butte de Morts bridge has always been problematic when the wind picks up, and it can take drivers by surprise, Vendola-Messer explained.

    “Usually, when there’s one, there ends up being a couple at the same time, because there will be people trying to stop behind the accident and not realizing that it’s icy that they’re driving on, or weren’t paying attention, and then there’s a secondary accident behind an initial accident,” she said. “That happened a couple of different times yesterday.”

    But drivers say it’s not the slickness of the bridge that’s the biggest issue, it’s other drivers.

    Truck driver Shannon Hild says that's something he sees often.

    “They wait until they’re in the middle of it, and then they hit their brakes, and that’s what causes problems,” he said. “They need to look ahead, be prepared, get off their phone”

    Deputies say shutting down the bridge isn't the solution.

    “To close a one-mile stretch just because people can’t slowdown is really not the name of the game,” Vendola-Messer said.

    The sheriff’s office’s advice? Either tread lightly when driving over that section of the road, or find another route.

    “I wouldn’t avoid it at all. It takes too much time to avoid it!” another Oshkosh motorist Ben Morth said. “People just don’t know how to drive, really. Otherwise, I drive a truck over it every day, and it’s fine.”

    “I feel safe how I drive, it’s everybody else I’m worried about; who’s gonna come sliding across, andyou know, when they get in the middle, and then they hit their brakes, that’s when you gotta be prepared for that,” said Hild.

    Deputies are warning drivers to lay off the gas, but if you need a “sign” to tell you how conditions are, or that maybe you should be slowing down, they’ve got you covered there too.

    The sheriff’s office communicates with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, and they put those warnings on signage seen throughout the highway.

    The Winnebago County Sheriff's Office says drivers should also expect sudden whiteouts, and "roadway icing" on the bridge.

    Meanwhile, the state Department of Transportation has also warned of black ice on state roads -- even during the day.

    What does the weather look like where you are? If you can safely (and warmly) take a photo or video, share it with us here:


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