Morning State News Briefs: State officials say Oklahoma-like tornado damage can easily happen in Wisconsin
MADISON - Wisconsin officials say the Oklahoma tornado tragedy should be a "wake-up call" for what might happen here.
Tod Pritchard of Wisconsin Emergency Management says the cold spring in the Badger State might have lured us into a false sense of security. All has been quiet on the Wisconsin tornado front this year - and because of the drought, the state only had four twisters in 2012, well below the average of 24. At least 24 people were killed in a huge tornado that hit suburban Oklahoma City yesterday. Pritchard said people only had up to 12 minutes of advance warning - and quote, "that's very little time." Meanwhile, WISC-TV in Madison said the Midwest Severe Storm Tracking Center just happened to be in its monthly meeting during yesterday's tornado. Dale Bernstein, the center's president, said it was a "great teaching moment" that forecasters can use for a long time to come.
Thunderstorms are in the forecast for the next two days throughout Wisconsin. The National Weather Service says severe weather is possible this afternoon and evening, especially in northern and southeast areas. A flash flood watch is in effect through this morning in far northwest Wisconsin. The region got almost three inches of rain Sunday and early Monday, and more rain was expected last night. No major damage was reported in last night's storms. Janesville had winds up to 47-miles-an-hour. Once the storms leave tomorrow, dry and cooler weather is expected at least into the holiday weekend.
The U.S. Justice Department's inspector general will investigate a flawed undercover operation in Milwaukee by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Inspector General Michael Horowitz told two House members in a letter that the Milwaukee sting raised quote, "significant management issues" relating to the ATF. He said it was troubling, after the agency had promised reforms in the wake of the "Fast and Furious" gun scandal in Arizona in which a missing weapon killed a Border Patrol agent. In Milwaukee, the ATF set up a fake storefront to try-and-catch gun traffickers. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel later found that the store was burglarized, an ATF agent's machine gun remains missing, a felon who threatened to shoot somebody in the store escaped untouched, and at least four wrong people were arrested. Horowitz told Menomonee Falls House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner that an earlier ATF report addressed management concerns - but he would still investigate the sting operation itself in conjunction with other ATF operations. He did not say when the probe would be finished.
An elderly passenger was killed when a vehicle struck a tree in Bonduel in Shawano County. Sheriff's deputies said a 46-year-old woman who was driving the vehicle was injured. The fatal victim was a 75-year-old man. The crash happened shortly after noon yesterday. Other details were not immediately available.
As Wisconsinites gear up for Memorial Day Weekend, gas prices are well above four-dollars a gallon in Eau Claire - and they're inching toward the four-dollar mark elsewhere. The Triple-"A" said this morning that the average statewide price for regular unleaded is about $3.94-a-gallon. That's almost two-cents more than yesterday, 16 cents more than a week ago, and 34 cents more than a month ago. Eau Claire reported an average of $4.14-a-gallon today. Other parts of Wisconsin are in the $3.80's-and-3.90's. In neighboring Minnesota, gas prices set new records recently, above four-dollars. Gail Weinholzer of the Gopher State's Triple-"A" blamed it on constricted supplies from Midwest oil refineries. She says the problem is being fixed with fuel shipments from the Gulf Coast. Weinholzer expects the Midwest refineries to get back on line soon after Memorial Day. She expects peak prices later this week, with a slow drop after the holiday, and a more rapid decline in mid-June.
Fire heavily damaged a building in Sauk City that has a True-Value hardware store and a tire-and-small engine plant. The blaze started late last night at the McFarlane Manufacturing facility. Units from more than a dozen area fire departments responded. There were no injuries reported from the three-alarm blaze. Investigators are expected to comb the wreckage today to look for clues on what caused it. By daybreak, virtually all of the fire was out. Fire-fighters were still taking care of some hot spots.
A school board member in Pulaski has been ticketed for hosting an underage drinking party at her home. Police said they were called to the home of Christine Vandenhouten in Hobart early on Sunday May 12th. She, her teenage son, and nine other Pulaski High students were given citations. Acting district administrator Bec Kane tells WLUK-TV in Green Bay that some students who were not cited admitted to school officials that they were at the party. She said school athletes and club members who went have been penalized. Kane also said the school district cannot impose its own discipline on Vandenhouten, since only the voters can decide the fate of school board members. She's in her first three-year term, which expires next spring. Vandenhouten has not commented.