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Odd Wisconsin Archive

Wisconsin Tornadoes


Tornado season has arrived in full force with this week's hot, humid and volatile weather. Click over to Ready Wisconsin to learn how to protect yourself (and see some amazing pictures and video). You can also follow Ready Wisconsin on Twitter for local severe weather alerts as they happen. Many local media outlets will send a text message to your phone when severe weather approaches. To sign up, look on their Web site for a mobile apps page. If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, you can receive live emergency alerts with the NOAA Radio Free app.

Wisconsin's Tornado History

After connecting to those up-to-the-minute tornado resources, you might enjoy browsing through these historical sources about tornadoes in Wisconsin history:

The earliest mention of a Wisconsin tornado is by Jonathan Carver, who visited the state in 1766 and described the effects of a tornado in the vicinity of the present city of Chippewa Falls.

For a 30-page summary of tornadoes in Wisconsin history, see "Tornadoes in Wisconsin," Wisconsin Magazine of History 73:4 (1989-1990): 242-273, which includes a lengthy table listing the worst tornadoes, 1865-1984.

New Richmond, 1899

The state's most famous and deadliest tornado destroyed the St. Croix Co. town of New Richmond in 1899. A circus was in town, and the population had swelled as people came for the festivities. The tornado originated as a waterspout on Lake St. Croix and then moved northeast to New Richmond. Shortly after the circus ended, it 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. In all, 117 persons were killed and 125 injured.

An eyewitness recalled, "The day had been unseasonably warm, clear and sunny until about 3 p.m., when the sky clouded darkly. At 4:30 it began to rain, stopping after about 20 minutes. The sky became still darker. Then the murderous cone of wind swirled in, tearing homes and business blocks from their foundations, hurling timber and uprooted trees like javelins in every direction, sweeping men and women from their feet and crushing them against walls or the ground."

The Milwaukee Journal reported that 500 buildings were destroyed and the only structures of note left standing were the Catholic and Baptist churches. A large safe, weighing 300 pounds, was caught up and carried for a block. One family of seven had scarcely taken refuge in their cellar when the house was lifted off and destroyed. The owner had a number of mowers and binders and rakes on the premises, which were blown into the cellar, almost completely filling it; miraculously, no one there was seriously injured. Property damage totaled about $600,000.

Although the humans were caught by surprise, many of New Richmond's animals seemed to sense the storm approaching. Their strange behavior is recorded in this previous Odd Wisconsin entry.

View photgraphs of the destruction at New Richmond.

Read contemporary accounts in Mrs. A.G. Boehm's History of the New Richmond Cyclone of June 12, 1899. (St. Paul, Minn: Dispatch, 1900).

Recent Tornadoes

Some of the worst tornadoes to hit the state in modern times occurred on the following dates:

1984, April 26-27: an outbreak of tornadoes covered all but extreme northeast Wisconsin. 11 tornadoes were spawned by 2 squall lines that crossed the state. The first entered western Wisconsin the night of April 26th, and produced one tornado in Polk county and another in Wood county. The second squall line moved into western Wisconsin late in the morning of April 27th. This line produced 9 additional tornadoes, responsible for all the deaths and most of the injuries. The 2 strongest tornadoes, both rated F4, hit near Wales in Waukesha county, killing 1 and injuring 14, and in the St. Germain area on the border between Vilas and Oneida counties, killing 1 and injuring 8. Overall, the storms killed 3 and injured over 40 people. An estimated $28 million dollars in damage was done by the two squall lines.

1984, June 6-07: the Barneveld tornado in western Dane Co., rated F5, left 9 dead, 200 injured, and $40 million in damages.

1993, June: the month with the most recorded tornadoes in the state - 28 tornadoes

1996, July 18: the costliest tornado this century struck Oakfield. 12 people were injured and $40.4 million in damage was caused; F5 rating. This was part of a tornado outbreak that produced 12 tornadoes across the state, 10 in southern Wisconsin.

1998, Aug. 28: a Door County tornado produced a waterspout over the Bay of Green Bay which moved onshore southwest of Egg Harbor. It injured two people and carved a damage path more than a quarter mile wide; $7 million dollars in damage; F3 rating.

2005, Aug. 18: 27 tornadoes were documented that day in Wisconsin, making it the most confirmed tornadoes that have ever occurred in the state in a single day (breaking the previous record of 24 tornadoes set on May 8, 1988). By far the most significant tornado of the day developed at 6:15 PM near Fitchburg, about 5 miles south of Madison. This F3 tornado travelled about 20.0 miles into Jefferson County from Dane County, passing through Stoughton with maximum intensity and a width of one-half mile. In that community it destroyed or damaged 240 houses, left property damage of $44 million, killed one person and injured 23 more. Debris from the Stoughton area was found as far as two counties to the east. The storm frequently changed size and form, finally lifting near Busseyvillle after traveling 20 miles in 53 minutes of continuous track. Numerous other tornadoes occurred the same day, during and after this one; Fort Atkinson was struck three times by three different tornadoes on Aug. 18th.

See more

View all our online pictures relating to historic tornadoes in Wisconsin and adjacent states.


:: Posted in Curiosities on May 30, 2013
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