A major winter storm moved into northwestern Wisconsin Thursday and brought more than a foot of snow to some areas. In the south, precipitation fell as rain and sleet. Temperatures in the 40s mid-week stood in sharp contrast to the frigid temperatures that had gripped Wisconsin much of the winter.
As a result of the storm, trail conditions are expected to change dramatically across the state. It may take snowmobile and ski groomers some time to groom the wet heavy snow that was forecast. People planning on traveling this weekend should call ahead to destinations for the latest conditions.
The storm is posing some challenges for the American Birkebeiner Foundation, which is holding the 41st American Birkebeiner ski race this Saturday. More than 10,000 skiers are registered for the largest ski race in North America. Also as a result of the storm, the National Park Service has temporarily closed access to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore sea caves as of 5 p.m. Thursday. People should check the Apostle Island website for updates as to when the trail to the sea caves may reopen.
Prior to this week's warm-up, both snowmobile and cross-country ski trails had continued to be in good to excellent condition statewide. Counties in roughly the bottom third of the state closed snowmobile trails prior to the warm temperatures arriving in an effort to preserve them for the cold temperatures that are forecast to arrive again this weekend. Check the Department of Tourism's Snow Conditions Report to see if trails reopen this weekend or next week.
Even with the milder weather, difficult access has continued to keep ice fishing pressure at a minimum. A few anglers have been accessing fishing spots via plowed trails, but the wind and blowing snow seem to change conditions daily. Many ice anglers have all but given up and removed their ice shacks, especially with more heavy snow predicted.
Anglers on Green Bay are reporting they have to go through 30 inches of ice to fish. There continued to be some good action for whitefish and a few anglers continued to report success for trout at southern Lake Michigan harbors. Mississippi River anglers are reporting the best ice for ice fishing in many years, with some action for sauger.
Due to an equipment malfunction at the Hatfield Dam, a drawdown of Lake Arbutus on the boarder of Clark and Jackson counties began this week. This will result in a lowering of the water levels that could potentially create dangerous conditions. As a result access to Lake Arbutus is being closed. Snowmobile trails that cross the lake are closed as well as entry points to the lake including the boat landings to prevent vehicular access onto the ice.
This week Wisconsin birders submitted 2,830 checklists of 114 species during the Great Backyard Bird Count, a four-day citizen science bird survey. Snowy owls held strong on winter territories across the state with nearly 300 individuals tallied, marking one of the largest irruptions ever recorded here. There were some signs of spring migration with arrival of lesser scaup, green-winged teal, American black duck, and other species. Other hints of spring include great horned owls incubating eggs, cardinals and chickadees singing courtship songs, and eagles tending to nest sites.
More news from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.