Flash, crash, bang, boom. Several severe thunderstorms already have swept across the RiverTown region, leaving debris in yards and on roofs and on cars. This on top of flooding. Sigh. Summer 2019 no doubt has more in store, and unfortunately some people may get hit especially hard — first, courtesy of Mother Nature and second, courtesy of the unscrupulous. You can't do much about the first, although you can do your best to be prepared.
Pools are open. Riverfront beaches invite us. Jump in, everyone! Well, not everyone and not so quick. Every day about 10 people die in the U.S. from unintentional drowning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 1 in 5 is a child age 14 or under. Drowning, in fact, ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States. We managed to make it through the 2019 flood without a local drowning, but the importance of water safety doesn't go down with dropping water levels.
Tread brightly but lightly into the grownup world, class of 2019. Some local schools wound up the academic year last week, while others will conclude classes this week. A few will finish up next week. Regardless, you get the sense that summer began with Memorial Day and so a new life commences for our high school graduates.
Lest we forget, Memorial Day is about the living as well as the dead. Americans set aside the last Monday of May to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Yet without surviving family members, comrades and grateful citizens to hold these ceremonies, there would be no one to do the memorializing. And without today's servicemen and servicewomen willing to protect and defend, there would be no United States and no freedom to mark the three-day weekend as we choose.
Do teens you know complain about headaches, nausea and dizziness? If so, don't be too quick to brush it off as the flu. They might actually be "nic sick," i.e. suffering from nicotine poisoning. Minnesota and Wisconsin health agencies recently reported that 1 in 5 highschoolers uses e-cigarettes. That's 20% of teens in our states — a steep and disturbing rise given that usage hovered at 7 or 8% just five years ago.
Keeping roadsides clean of trash and recyclables is a worthy exercise, but certainly not a risk-free one. Remember, just a year ago three Chippewa Falls Girl Scouts and a mother lost their lives participating in this community service endeavor. We join the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in reminding drivers to keep a watchful eye out for Adopt-a-Highway volunteers as they walk near state and local highways to collect a winter's worth of accumulated trash.
Minnesota lawmakers are patting themselves on the back for passing a hands-free cellphone law, which will take effect on Aug. 1. After five years of debate and angst, Minnesota will become the 18th state to have such a driving law. The hands-free movement appears to be gaining traction in Wisconsin, too, where the current ban applies only to motorists traveling through work zones. River Falls Assembly Republican Shannon Zimmerman said on Monday, April 22, that he is exploring whether to introduce broader legislation similar to Minnesota's.
The unofficial start to the motorcycle season is Saturday. Already?! Given last week's snow storm and ongoing high waters, that seems hard to believe. And therein lies the danger this spring: You may simply not be prepared to "start seeing motorcycles." Motorcyclists by the thousands will cruise up, down and around the Mississippi River during the annual Spring Flood Run on April 20. The original run was down Highway 61 to Winona in 1965 to help battle the Great Flood. Today, the loop runs down both sides of the Mississippi River.
Receding flood waters will leave behind an unsightly mess — branches, bottles, plastic wrap, barrels, hazardous materials, you name it. The melting snow in your neighborhood will expose plenty of refuse, too — trash, accumulated junk, rusty bikes, leftover bricks and boards. The first you can blame on Mother Nature. The second you cannot. Unfortunately, some people let their properties reach such a sad state of affairs that their negligence devalues adjacent properties and lowers the overall appeal of a neighborhood and community.
Longtime residents warn that spring 2019 has an ominous feel similar to that of 1965, when the region suffered its greatest flood in recorded history after a series of storms dumped massive precipitation on much of Minnesota as well as western Wisconsin. The blizzards came March 1-2, 10-12, 17-18 and 27-29. The hardest hit areas were the Minnesota, St. Croix and Chippewa river basins all feeding into the Mississippi.