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Emergency responders: Plan ahead for future storms

By Brandi Makuski

The National Weather Service in Green Bay says strong storms are possible throughout most of central and north-central Wisconsin on Sunday.

NWS updated its hazardous weather alert Sunday morning, warning of the potential for strong storms, large hail, and damaging winds.

Following the widespread damage of last weekend’s storms, local emergency responders are offering up some safety reminders.

“We’re a little bit more vulnerable now because we’ve got buildings exposed, and damage,” Portage Co. Sheriff Mike Lukas said on Friday. “I’d be concerned with any trees that are still leaning near structures or roadways…it’s going to take weeks to a month or two to get everything cleaned up, and you’re still going to have trees leaning…all it takes is one gust to knock it over.”

The potential for falling trees is just one concern, Lukas said. As of 9:30 a.m. Sunday, all power outages in the Portage Co. area have been resolved, but the possibility of another widespread outage is always present during summer storm season, he said.

Considering how many across the Portage Co. area went without power for nearly a full week, Deputy Fire Chief Ken Voss in Plover said it’s a good time for residents to go over their emergency plans.

“Make sure you have plenty of bottled water—and dry goods,” Voss said. “Keep food on hand you don’t need to refrigerate, stuff you don’t need electricity to cook with.”

Assistant Fire Chief JB Moody in Stevens Point said following a devastating storm in June 2017, when firefighters were in the field for several hours mitigating flooding and fire emergencies, his crews are now carrying MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) on all their apparatuses.

“They’re quick and easy to open up, they don’t need to be cooked, and they keep us fueled for however long we’re out there,” he said.

Firefighters also suggest residents who experience future power outages should walk around their homes and unplug as many appliances as they can to avoid electrical problems when power is restored.

“That’s what we do at my house, we unplug as much as we can,” said Capt. Paul Mattlin from SPFD. “Also, if you’re using a generator, or maybe a grill for cooking, make sure you’re not in the garage and that you’re using it safely.”

Mattlin also suggests stocking up on battery-powered flashlights and radios, candles, and plenty of extra batteries—and to stay current on the weather.

“From my standpoint, I always watch The Weather Channel, and Channels 7 or 9,” Mattlin said. “If there are purple or really dark areas (on the radar), we head for the basement.”

Lukas said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did issue a tornado warning at 10:46 a.m. on Saturday, but because the warning wasn’t issued by the National Weather Service in Green Bay, tornado sirens weren’t activated in Portage Co.

“So just make sure you’re staying up-to-date with any weather source you can find, whether it’s TV, the radio, your phone, Facebook,” Lukas said. “Because even if the sirens don’t go off, you can have severe weather, and we saw that Saturday.”

Lukas, along with Assistant Police Chief Tom Zenner in Stevens Point, both warn motorists against driving around the community following a strong storm.

“From a traffic safety standpoint, which is where we come in during a storm like this, we don’t want people out on the road,” Zenner said Friday.  “Don’t travel unless you need to…as interesting as it can to be going into neighborhoods to see all the damage, you could wind up being part of the problem.”

“Don’t ignore the weather or the warnings that are issued, take them seriously,” Mattline said. “Look at the damage in Plover, that was just straight light winds.”