Severe cold weather touches Eau Claire, varying damages result

Sub-zero temperatures yield various water damages throughout the city and university

Timothy Spierings

More stories from Timothy Spierings


Photo by Gabbie Henn

An emergency response team was ready throughout the cold spell in order to help community members through the week.

Eau Claire and most of the Midwest underwent a severe cold snap that resulted in a variety of effects and outcomes.

According to the Leader-Telegram, a few days during the past week produced windchill lows around -53 degrees. Street workers and others who couldn’t take the day off went into the cold to continue working in order to keep the city running, despite the dangerous conditions.

UW-Eau Claire managed to make it out of the cold fairly well, although there were some reported damages that affected those on campus the week before the spring semester began.

A water pipe burst in Hibbard Hall on Feb. 1, causing any staff or students present to evacuate the building by about 1 p.m. Chancellor James C. Schmidt reported that a few outdoor pipes had issues as well, along with flooding that had occurred in one of the downtown student residences.

A water pipe burst at Haymarket Landing on Feb. 2  in the garbage room. A sprinkler pad gave way and flooded the second floor of Haymarket Landing with about an inch of water, Schmidt said. Students were moved to the top floors, where space and rooms were available, with crews cleaning up the mess over the weekend.

The decision to close UW-Eau Claire is a process involving many people. Schmidt said there is communication between the university team, law enforcement and others about the choice to close campus.

Schmidt said that he’ll often get a call from Mike Rindo, the assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, at 4 a.m., where the two converse and ultimately decide if it is necessary to close the university that day.

“It’s very rare at UWEC,” Schmidt said. “I ended up looking at a Facebook page, and there were alums from 20 years ago saying ‘We’ve never closed school!’”

Prior to the first week of spring classes, students on campus adopted the habit of hunkering down throughout the cold instead of hazarding the outdoors.

“Staying in the dorms was alright,” Josh Liew Xuan, a third-year public relations student, said.” I got stuck indoors on most days, but at least I had some video games to play and books to read to keep me occupied. I usually like to stroll outside in the nice cool air when I feel like it, but not at this particular temperature.”

The city of Eau Claire experienced damages from the sub-zero temperatures. WQOW reported that the Eau Claire Holiday Inn experienced a water pipe breakage, dumping hundreds of gallons of water into the lobby of the hotel on Feb. 1.

Andrew Werthmann, acting city council president, said there were a few days without buses running, along with the library closing and a few electrical shortages at Xcel Energy.

“All of the city’s equipment has to be able to withstand the weather,” Werthmann said. “There was an emergency response team made of the city, county, Altoona, fire, police, human services, veteran services. Just people out there daily making sure that everything was running.”

Werthmann started a fundraiser on Tuesday on his personal Facebook page in an effort to raise $2,000, with the Chippewa Valley Street Ministry, for the homeless in Eau Claire to get out of the cold.

In response, the Eau Claire community managed to achieve something much bigger than the original intended goal, raising new opportunities for the ministry to expand its services.

“It ended up raising $36,000,” Werthmann said. “1,200 people donated, and by Wednesday, 1,000 people had shared it with friends.”

Werthmann said he was proud of the Eau Claire community for this achievement, and a lot of credit needs to go to the non-profits who were out in the cold making sure the homeless members of the community got to where they needed to be during the polar vortex.

“From the police and fire departments, to the city county health emergency services and many different nonprofit organizations,” Werthmann said. “All of them stepped-up to take on what had to be done.”

“There’s the old joke in Wisconsin that goes: ‘If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. It’ll change!’” Schmidt said. “So I’m hoping this was our taste of severe winter for the year.”

Spierings can be reached at [email protected].