Viroqua, WI

Community Visited: 8/6/04
Community Recognized: 9/28/04
Community Ceremony: 10/12/04


On Friday August 6th, a site verification visit was made to Viroqua, Wisconsin, a community applying to become 'StormReady' for NWS La Crosse.

Verification team members included:

  • Bruce Ladron, La Crosse County Emergency Management
  • Todd Shea, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, NWS La Crosse

Community Information

Viroqua, WI is in central Vernon County in southwest Wisconsin. It is the county seat, located along U.S. Highway 14 and geographically located on a ridge that runs through the central part of the county. Population is 4,400.

Main contact is Cindy Ackerman, Vernon County Emergency Management. Secondary contact is Mark Rahr, Viroqua Police Chief. We met both of them while conducting the site verification visit.


24 Hour Warning Point

Viroqua (and Vernon County) has multiple contact points, which is a benefit in case of failure. The main warning point is the Vernon County Sheriff Department, but there is also the Viroqua Police Department, Emergency Management office, and Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Each facility is in a different part of town.

At the Sheriff Department, here are the methods NWS information is monitored:

  • Law Enforcement Teletype (LETS) - TIME System
  • NAWAS
  • Meteorologix - Weather Sentry Premium
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Internet
At the Police Department,
  • Law Enforcement Teletype (LETS) - TIME System
  • NOAA Weather Radio
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Internet
At the Emergency Management Office / EOC,
  • NOAA Weather Radio
  • Internet
  • Pagers
  • Amateur Radio / APRS
  • Television / Radio
For a community this size, only four (4) are required. There are approx. 8 different methods to receive NWS information between the different contact points. There are radio links between the Sheriff, police, and EOC as well.

With the premium software and radar display through Meteorologix located at the Sheriff Department, they serve as a natural hub for coordinating weather/spotter efforts. Radar information is downloaded via satellite and is verbally shared with Emergency Management and police officials. Vernon County has a NAWAS drop and can talk directly with the NWS, in addition to receiving watch and warning information via the state TIME system. The department will be moved to a brand new building and jail in 2005. Current county dispatch is quite small.

Viroqua Police Department dispatch is staffed Monday through Friday during the daytime hours only. A NOAA Weather Radio and TIME system are located there. The police dept. is also alerted of warnings via the Sheriff Dept. Both the Sheriff and police dispatch centers are located at ground level.

The Emergency Management office and EOC is staffed with numerous radios, including HAM Radio/APRS, NOAA Weather Radio, and VHF radio links with county and other local officials. Internet, television, and radio are also available.


Hydro-Meteorological Monitoring

There is a Davis weather station at the Police Department, although the tower is blocked in part by a large tree to the west directly across the street. A similar unit will be installed at the Emergency Management Office/EOC and information will be broadcast via APRS sometime soon. A third weather station will be mounted to a fire vehicle or hazmat truck. NWS La Crosse would like to start getting rainfall and wind gust reports from these sites.

Weather monitoring can be done via Internet, television, and Meteorologix - Weather Sentry Premium. Considering Viroqua is on a ridge, there is no need for river monitoring equipment, but Vernon County has been pro-active in assisting with a new, proposed river gauge near Readstown, WI (Vernon County).

For a community this size, only two (2) are required.


Local Warning Dissemination

Viroqua has three outdoor warning sirens. One is located downtown, one is on the far northwest side near a mobile home park and airport, and a third is located on the south side of town near a golf course. Sirens can be activated from the Sheriff Department, the Police Department, or the Emergency Management Office. Normally the groups coordinate on who will activiate when storms approach. Should there be a regular order for siren activation or written action plan? It sounded to us like this was done through more word of mouth, which might be fine in these scenarios. There is no siren near the county fairgrounds which might be a recommended spot if one could be added.

Viroqua also uses the Vernon Emergency Radio Alert System (V.E.R.A.S.) to alert local officials of warnings or local emergencies. Radios are located in numerous public buildings. While visiting the hospital, we verified a V.E.R.A.S. radio. Alerts can be sent to the radios from the Sheriff Dept., Police Dept., and Emergency Management Office. The radios are also tested routinely.

For a community this size, only one (1) method is required.


NOAA Weather Radio Use

NOAA Weather Radios (NWR) are located at the three main points of contact for the county (Sheriff, Police, EOC). There are no NWRs in public buildings since they are equipped with V.E.R.A.S. radios. NWRs will need to be placed at City Hall, the schools (three?), the hospital, and public library at a minimum. We may also recommend radios for the fairgrounds, nursing homes, and other industry in the city.

UPDATE (9/22/04) - NWRs have been placed at City Hall, the schools, and other public facilities.

Signal was relatively good from WXJ86 La Crosse (162.550 MHz).


Preparedness

Severe weather and winter weather preparedness information is forwarded to local media, direct copies of NWS mailings. Severe weather information is also presented at the county fair in September, along with safety talks to the elderly.

SKYWARN weather spotter training was held in Viroqua on March 23, 2004. Twenty five people attended. Spotter attendance has been dropping slowly over the last several years. Amateur radio interest is sharply rising in the Viroqua area though.


Administrative

Viroqua and Vernon County have a Warning Operations Plan that spell out actions needed and/or taken during active weather scenarios.

Vernon County Emergency Management has been very pro-active with regards to communication to the La Crosse NWS this year. During the flooding of May 2004, contact was made at least daily with updates on flooding and search/rescue efforts. There has been a dramatic increase in amateur radio efforts and tests of the radio equipment showed they can reach numerous area repeaters with a clear signal. A new HAM radio repeater is also planned in Viroqua.

The NWS visited Viroqua on 8/6/04 and Emergency Management officials visited the NWS on Sept.21, 2004.

Radio equipment in the Emergency Management Office. The Meteorologix display unit at the dispatch center. The downtown outdoor siren, one of three.
V.E.R.A.S. Radio located in Emergency Room of hospital. Police Dept. dispatch center. Mayor Fanta, EM Cindy Ackerman, and Police Chief Rahr accept their signs.

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