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Heavy ice will delay first towboats; tourism conference underway; 2 boys die in house fire, more state news

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District employees Al VanGuilder, left, survey technician, and Bill Chelmowski, marine machinery mechanic, use an airboat to measure ice on Lake Pepin, near Wabasha, Minn., last month. Lake Pepin, located on the Mississippi River between Red Wing and Wabasha, Minn., is used as the benchmark because the ice melts slower in this area due to the lake width and the slower current. Photo by Patrick Moes.

The first spring shipping boats will appear later than normal on the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin. On average, March 20th is the first day that boats can muscle their way through the season's final ice, and head north past Prescott into Minnesota. But the Army Corps of Engineers says this year's ice is still too thick, and spokesman Patrick Moes says it's hard to predict when shipping can begin. The Corps' official ice measurements are on Lake Pepin just south of Red Wing. The most recent measurements came last Wednesday. Some of the lake's two dozen measuring spots were clear of ice -- but the others averaged around two feet. Moes says the ice needs to be 8-to-12 inches before the toughest towboats can maneuver up-stream.

Survey crews from the Corps' Fountain City Service Base in Fountain City used an airboat and a global positioning system to identify the exact measurement locations.

Surveys for River Mile 770 during the past five years are: Feb. 13, 2013, 19 inches; Feb. 15, 2012, 15 inches; Feb. 16, 2011, 22 inches; Feb. 17, 2010, 26 inches; and Feb. 18, 2009, 22 inches.

For many of those who live in the Midwest, the first tow of the season is the unofficial start of spring. The first tow to break through Lake Pepin in 2012 was the Motor Vessel Deana Ann, a tow operated Marquette Transportation Company, Inc., of Paducah, Ky., March 17. The average opening date of the navigation season in St. Paul for the last 10 years is March 20.

Walker addressing tourism conference today

MADISON -- Wisconsin's second-largest industry is in the spotlight in Madison.

Over 1,000 people are attending the annual Governor's Conference on Tourism, which began Sunday at Monona Terrace a couple blocks from the State Capitol.

On Monday, movie director David Zucker and actor Robert Hays will unveil a new Wisconsin tourism ad. Zucker, a UW Madison graduate, directed the ad last summer on Plum Lake, north of Rhinelander. Hays plays a confused fisherman.

The ad will start running in May in Milwaukee, Chicago, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and eastern Iowa. Gov. Scott Walker will address the tourism conference Monday.

Normally, the highlight is the annual release of data showing the economic impact of Wisconsin tourism, but state tourism officials say the numbers for 2012 won't be ready until May.

The year before, tourist spending in Wisconsin totaled $9.8 billion dollars, with an estimated total economic impact of $16 billion.

Priebus says Republicans have to learn how to 'win hearts'

The Wisconsinite who chairs the Republican National Committee says his party will spend $10 million this year to tell everyday people what the GOP means to them.

Reince Priebus was on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday, vowing to get Republicans more involved in their communities in the hopes of winning more national elections.

Priebus, the Kenosha native who used to head the Wisconsin GOP, said his party needs to explain how Republican principles can mean the difference in affording school, getting a pay raise, managing debt, and living the American dream.

"We're going to have to learn how to win the 'heart war' ", he said. "That's what in presidential elections is plaguing our party."

Priebus also said he wanted the GOP National Convention in June or July instead of August, saying it would give the final nominee more time to put on a fall campaign.

Last month, Priebus said the Republicans must campaign year-round if they're going to be successful.

Cold front, snow, pushing across northern Wisconsin

SULLIVAN -- A powerful cold front was expected to push more snow into the northern two-thirds of Wisconsin Monday.

Up to eight inches was predicted along Lake Superior in Iron and Ashland counties. More than six inches is expected in the Hayward and Park Falls regions. Two- to five inches are in the forecast as far south as Juneau and Adams counties.

In most cases, the bulk of the snow will clear out by mid-afternoon - and then strong winds will blow it around, with gusts up to 40 miles an hour. Freezing rain is expected in some places once the snow tapers off.

Winter weather advisories are in effect as late as 1 a.m., Tuesday.

The bitter cold temperatures are normally gone by now - but it was 17-below early Sunday at Land O'Lakes in Vilas County. Tomahawk and Eagle River each had minus-13.

Tornado warnings to become more detailed

Government officials want citizens to pay closer attention when a tornado warning is issued so starting this year, the National Weather Service will issue more detailed warnings in Wisconsin.

Meteorologist Jeff Last says they'll let people know how strong an approaching tornado might be and whether it's like to cause minor tree damage, or have the potential to kill lots of people.

Last told WHBY Radio in Appleton that the detailed warnings were created after people ignored the general warnings prior to the Joplin tornado twister in Missouri in 2011, part of a band of tornadoes that stretched as far east as La Crosse and Sparta.

The new system was tested last year in Missouri and Kansas. It takes effect in Wisconsin on April 1st - in time for the state's Tornado Awareness Week drill planned for April 18th.

Canadian National investigating Hatfield-area derailment

The Canadian National Railroad is still trying to figure out how one of its freight trains derailed in west central Wisconsin over the weekend.

Nineteen cars jumped the tracks near Hatfield in Jackson County. The railroad said the train was going east from Taylor to Wisconsin Rapids. It was carrying an undisclosed amount of sand.

No one was injured, and officials said nothing hazardous was spilled. The derailment occurred late Saturday afternoon.

County Trunk "K" near Hatfield was still closed Sunday, and officials could not immediately say when the tracks could be repaired.

Arrest made in church burglary-, vandalism case

A 21-year-old man was arrested Sunday for a burglary and vandalism at a church in Hartford.

First Baptist Church had its windows broken on Friday, and a fire extinguisher was sprayed inside. Somebody told police Sunday that a man was seen with injuries to his hands and arms soon after the break-in - and he apparently claimed he was running from police.

Officials said the man moved out-of-state before returning to Hartford a couple weeks ago. He had been wanted on five previous warrants for municipal violations.

Waukesha West falls to New Berlin in Academic Decathlon

WISCONSIN DELLS -- After a dozen years, there's finally a new champion in Wisconsin's Academic Decathlon.

New Berlin Eisenhower beat out 20 public and private high schools in the state competition in Wisconsin Dells. It ended 11 consecutive titles by Waukesha West, which finished second.

Both schools will advance to the national contest in Minneapolis next month.

The Academic Decathlon features tests in a variety of subjects, and the teams have students of various performance levels.

Langlade records state's 19th snowmobile fatality

RHINELANDER -- Authorities are investigating what appears to be Wisconsin's 19th snowmobile death of the winter.

Robert Ottman, 55, of Rhinelander died Saturday. Langlade County investigators said Ottman apparently drove his snowmobile onto private property to try and get onto Otter Lake but he got stuck before he could reach the lake.

Sheriff's deputies want to know what Ottman was doing on Friday night, and they've asked the public for information.

Wisconsin has recorded its largest number of snowmobile deaths in three years. Counting Ottman's death, the state is two below its total from 2010.

Vigil held for boys killed in West Allis duplex fire

WEST ALLIS -- Two boys died and two other children were hurt in a Sunday morning duplex fire in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis.

At a vigil last night, family members identified the victims as Michael Gonzalez and Isaiha Kobow, both 14.

They said the children were burned so severely, that dental records will be needed to officially identify them. Michael's 13-year-old brother Joel Gonzalez was in fair condition at last word at Milwaukee Children's Hospital. Their four-year-old brother Kendall was expected to survive, but there was no word on his condition.

Relatives said the four youngsters were alone upstairs and a downstairs' resident knocked on the door and woke up Joel. Investigators said Joel rescued young Kendall and then went back inside to get the others but he was stopped by the flames

The Gonzalez brothers normally stayed with a grandmother, but they were at their mother's house for the weekend. One relative said they were celebrating Joel's birthday, which took place a few days earlier.

The state Fire Marshal and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are helping West Allis authorities investigate the cause of the fire.

Goats die in weekend fire near Janesville

JANESVILLE -- Fifty-five goats were killed in a barn fire west of Janesville, and investigators are still trying to determine how it started.

Units responded to a farm on Hwy. 14 at 9:15 p.m., Saturday.

Total damage was estimated at $170,000. The barn became engulfed in flames soon after the first firefighters arrived. Four fire departments eventually responded. Traffic on Hwy. 14 was detoured for five hours while the blaze was being fought.

DNR seeks public input on Oxbow Natural Area

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is looking for ideas, as it creates a new master plan for a number of facilities in northeast Wisconsin.

An open house will take place on March 27th at the Oconto City Hall. The DNR is updating its plans for the Green Bay West Shore Wildlife Area, and about 750 acres of gift lands next to the wildlife area.

Plans are also being updated for the Bloch Oxbow State Natural Area, an upland along the Peshtigo River and a number of wildlife and fishery locations in the northeast.

At the open house, DNR officials will describe its planning process, provide reviews of the affected properties, and take public comments.