Six tornadoes struck our local communities in the wee hours of the morning on August 6th.
The radar lit up about midnight, with reports of hail. Our cars aren’t protected by a garage, so we took off to protect the cars from hail damage in a nearby hospital’s parking ramp. If there had been any suggestion of tornadoes, we never would have gone there. The cars would have had to take their chances and we would have gone into our basement. But we didn’t even have a thunderstorm watch, much less any warnings for severe weather.
I have never been through a thunderstorm like that one, wind-wise. The straight line winds were at 60 mph — then went up to 70 mph — then hit 100 mph. The well-built reinforced concrete parking ramp started shaking like crazy as the wind kept escalating … then the power went out everywhere. The hospital has huge generators which kicked in immediately, so we could see what was happening. It was unreal. I’ve never seen rain and hail fiercely blown like that, sideways yet rotating as it came through, and never been in a huge concrete structure shaking from the wind. The trees around the ramp — big trees — bent to the ground.
The lightning was incredible. There were spans where the lightning was so frequent that we heard a continuous stream of thunder claps.
It had taken 9 minutes to drive to the ramp. It took 38 minutes to drive home once it died down, creeping through streets to find paths through an area where travel was now almost impassible, and all done in a total blackout as there wasn’t any power. We had to find our way around downed trees, power lines that were snapped and dangling, power poles snapped right off, wires completely down across streets, and debris from houses. One street had big chunks of a roof that had been torn off strewn across it. The lanes in places were covered with broken glass, from recycling bins that had been blown into the streets, their contents dumped and smashed. Street lights and stop lights weren’t working until we got to a few blocks from our house. All the power in our immediate area was still up, but we were a little oasis surrounded by almost 100,000 businesses and households to our west, south, north and east that were without power.
The street on the north side of our town that runs east-west is a major corridor and it was impassable, in spots, as was a state highway to our east. At one point on that highway major power transmission poles, those huge metal towers that are built to withstand winds of 70 to 100 mph, were down, ripped entirely out of the ground.
Our street was blocked on one end with a huge downed tree branch, but we couldn’t see any other major damage. We were so relieved that we didn’t have any damage to our house, although there were lots of small branches down. Later we found that a neighbor down the street wasn’t so lucky, and had several large trees down.
A campground east of us was demolished. Large expensive RVs were flipped over and rolled, and one person badly injured, but no one was killed there, thank goodness.
The next morning local emergency management began flying over the area via helicopter to survey our three counties. The storms damaged or destroyed many buildings and homes. A big Lutheran church was destroyed, and farms had barns, outbuildings and silos ripped apart. The damage to our county alone is in the tens of millions of dollars. As we’re a mostly rural area, that number doesn’t begin to reflect how much was destroyed!
The National Weather service determined that six separate tornadoes formed and traveled through our communities. One of them cut a path about 3,000 feet — the length of only ten football fields — away from where we were in the parking ramp! The storm itself created 100 mile per hour straight line winds right on top of us, with an EF2 tornado barreling past in addition to that. It’s no wonder the building we were in was shaking like crazy!
The power grid was so badly damaged in places that power crews came in even from other states to help restore power. Many homes and businesses were without power for almost a week. The roads are all now open again, but when you travel down some streets in our area the debris from destroyed trees is piled six feet high continuously on either side of the road.
We talked to a friend of Michael’s whose house was ‘the’ starting point for one of the tornadoes. That tornado literally formed over their house, then traveled about 5 miles on the ground. Their house survived, but 5 huge trees in their backyard (85 foot tall trees; one was 6′ in diameter) were corkscrewed and snapped off and lifted from the backyard over his house. One of those trees smashed the power pole off of the front of his house as it came down and tore through the soffits. The tornado turned those trees into “cordword” sized pieces that are now all through his apple orchard.
One house nearby to him was picked up, moved 2 feet off the foundation, and the attached garage is gone. Other nearby neighbors lost roofs or had trees smashed into their homes. The front of another house had a 2×4 driven six feet through the front wall right above a picture window — but the picture window under it didn’t even crack. He said that everything you hear about it sounding like a freight train is exactly how to describe it — except it sounded like the world’s biggest freight training coming straight DOWN on them, which apparently was because it formed over the house.
He said we had to see it, and I finally did see it, a week after the storm. On the path the tornado took, all kinds of structures and trees are ripped apart. The pattern of how it touched down over their lots shows by the heights at which the trees snapped off, starting higher up then going from there sort of in an angle down to trees which were broken off at their base, or ripped roots and all from the ground. Some of the remaining tree trunks and stumps are twisted around like corkscrews! Some properties appear undamaged, others have badly damaged homes, flattened crops, and barns and outbuildings that were demolished. It’s absolutely indescribable to see in person the power of a storm like that.
I talked to another friend today, and his house and garage was damaged as were both of his cars (dents in the cars from flying debris, and the rear window shattered in one of his vehicles), but again, thankfully, as was true over most of the entire area, there were no injuries to him or his wife or children.
We had no warning. When NOAA says that a thunderstorm can produce tornadoes without warning — believe it. Our tornado sirens were never set off by our county emergency management, as the storms were on us and then past us so fast that the National Weather Service wasn’t able to even send out tornado warnings via the emergency broadcast system. The storm was quite unusual for any thunderstorm in the USA, much less Wisconsin, as the storm itself moved at 100 miles per hour — with embedded tornadoes and their incredibly destructive winds in addition to that.
If I never experience anything like that again in my lifetime, it’ll be fine with me.