MILWAUKEE - Gov. Scott Walker is readying the troops as a strong winter storm makes its way to Wisconsin.
Walker Wednesday declared a State of Emergency as the storm advances toward the Badger State. The order mobilizes state resources, including the Wisconsin Emergency Management, the Wisconsin National Guard, the State Patrol and other agencies.
The State Patrol is recommending against travel during the storm.
Forecasters say the storm will include blizzard conditions. The heaviest snow is expected to arrive after midnight and continue throughout the day on Thursday. Wind gusts of up to 45 mph by Thursday afternoon should make travel treacherous.
The National Weather Service posted blizzard warnings for at least eight south central counties for Thursday afternoon.
Walker on Wednesday night closed state government offices to the public due to extreme winter weather conditions predicted for Wisconsin.
Select state office buildings will be closed to the public on Thursday but will remain open to employees.
"We are keeping state buildings open to employees to ensure that essential services are maintained for our facilities that operate 24x7, as well as those employees who are able to safely travel to their offices," said Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch in a statement.
State office buildings will be closed to the public in the following counties: Adams, Brown, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jefferson, Juneau, Lafayette, Marquette, Monroe, Outagamie, Richland, Rock, Sauk, Vernon and Winnebago.
The state Capitol in Madison remains open for business.
Agency heads have been authorized to allow employees to take leave from work (such as vacation time) as provided in the state's inclement weather policy, but excludes sick leave. This allows employees to determine if they can safely travel to work, the DOA said in a news release.
Wisconsin has opened its State Emergency Operations Center to monitor the winter storm. The Emergency Operations Center will remain staffed throughout the duration of the storm.
The SEOC will take calls from local law enforcement needing help and figure out how to get help there in bad conditions.
"We're bringing in different state agencies -- the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Transportation, Wisconsin National Guard -- all sorts of agencies are going to come together here to work this storm," said Tod Pritchard, of Wisconsin Emergency Management.
As part of the emergency preparations, National Guard troops have been pre-positioned at nine armories around the state, including in Madison, Beloit, Portage and Richland Center.
They and DNR wardens on snowmobiles and 4-wheel-drive trucks will respond if needed for the next 24 hours.
Interstate 90/94 is of particular concern to officials at the SEOC, who don't want a repeat of four years ago when a blizzard stranded drivers on the interstate overnight.
Officials said they'll make a decision based on the conditions Thursday whether to drop gates on some interstate on-ramps to really lessen the number of vehicles on the interstate.