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Odd Wisconsin Archive

"Great Hail Stones the Size of a Man's Fist"


"Growing crops cut off and chopped up. Orchards and groves riddled. Pigs and chickens killed and windows beaten in." So ran the headline in a Madison paper on July 10, 1878, describing a thunderstorm that passed across southern Wisconsin the previous day. April 15-19 is Severe Weather Awareness Week in Minnesota and Wisconsin, so let's have a look at Ghosts of Thunderstorms Past.

1878 Dane County Thunderstorm

"A heavy wind-storm blowing 32 miles per hour passed over the city at 1;45 o'clock, lasting fifteen minutes," that Madison writer continued, "followed by an atmospheric lull, a sheeting rain-fall, and more or less electric disturbance. The heaviest rain did not visit the town until three o'clock, when the day was as black as during a full solar eclipse and animals and birds sought rest; the water came straight down in an undisturbed torrent and continued for an hour and a half…

"Verona and Fitchburg southwest of the city appear to have been the scenes of especial tempestuous violence. It is supposed that the storm track commenced upon section 1, Town of Verona, upon what is known as Badger's Prairie… From Badger Prairie to Nine Springs Marsh four miles to the east, the storm swept with fearful violence along a path some two miles wide — the great hail stones the size of a man's fist cutting growing crops off close to the ground and chopping up the stalks, riddling and breaking in window sashes, knocking holes through shingle roofs and pine board fences, barking and violently pruning orchards and groves, and strewing the countryside with the brush-wood ; killing young pigs and barnyard fowls and otherwise working vast damage to agricultural interests at a season when the growing crops were at their best and gave the fullest promise."

1843 Kenosha Waterspout

A much more dramatic storm over Lake Michigan was witnessed from Kenosha on August 20, 1843: "The attention of the beholders was first directed to a dense dark cloud hanging over Lake Michigan, distance, apparently, some ten or twelve miles in a southerly direction from this place.

"From this cloud was seen converging downwards a thick mass of vapor, trumpet shaped, or in the form of a pyramid reversed; at the same time, the surface of the water below appeared greatly agitated, bubbling, foaming, and rising up in hundreds of little sharp pyramids of various heights, until at length an aqueous cone rising upward united with the descending one, forming a volume apparently some two hundred feet high and exhibiting the form of two funnels united at the little ends; the point of uniting between the ascending and descending cone being much the smallest part of the column. In the middle of the column was seen what may be termed a transparent tube through which the water appeared to rush with a spiral motion, and with a velocity truly wonderful." Two more waterspouts then joined with the one described here.

1899 New Richmond Tornado

Of course, tornadoes are the most dangerous summer storms. A list of the worst to visit Wisconsin is available here, the best-known being the famous New Richmond tornado of June 12, 1899, which killed 117 people and injured 150 more. A visiting circus had drawn thousands of people to New Richmond that day, and shortly after the circus had ended, the tornado passed through the center of town, leveling a strip of land 1000 feet wide and 3000 feet long. Over 300 buildings were destroyed and multiple deaths were reported in at least 26 families: six families had four or more deaths.


:: Posted in Curiosities on April 16, 2013
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