A powerful December storm system swept through Wisconsin on Wednesday evening, bringing the eerie threat of winter tornadoes over snow-capped acres.
Once the storms have passed, gusts of wind have set in and are expected to continue through Thursday.
Winds knocked down trees and power lines in central and western Wisconsin. A gust of 69 mph was reported at Viroqua while gusts reached 54 at Marshfield, 62 at Viola, 69 at Wisconsin Rapids and 67 at Eau Claire.
It was a historic storm, according to the National Weather Service. Wednesday set the record for the most hurricane-force wind gusts (75 + mph) in a day since at least 2004. The previous record was set on August 10, 2020 with 53. There were 55 of these gusts at across the country Wednesday at 9 p.m.
The first tornado warning in Wisconsin was issued just after 8 p.m. for Whitehall and an area southwest of Eau Claire. It expired at 8:45 pm Thunderstorm warnings have been issued for western Wisconsin from La Crosse to the Rice Lake area.
A second tornado warning was issued for Clark and Taylor counties at 9:07 am. This storm was moving through Loyal and Greenwood at 9:20 a.m. It expired at 9.45am.
As the night progressed, the storm has lost some of its energy, but the winds behind it will last through the night and into the morning.
The Milwaukee area was expected to miss the worst of the storm, but will experience high winds until morning. Just before 9 p.m., the temperature at Mitchell International in Milwaukee was 65 with wind gusts to 45 mph.
The winds were expected to worsen overnight, but still left some 10,000 We Energies customers in southeastern Wisconsin without power by 10 p.m. By 11:40 p.m., that number had risen to 22,000.
Tornado Watch is in effect until 11 p.m. and includes Wausau, Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, Madison, Eau Claire and LaCrosse.
Forecasters expected the storm line to cross the Mississippi River in Wisconsin between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., said Mark Gehring, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sullivan.
This line of storms used to cause wind damage and possibly tornadoes in Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa, according to weather services and media.
As night approaches, “Our main concern (for severe weather) is western Wisconsin,” Gehring said. “But (the storm line) could still produce severe weather conditions when it occurs in the Madison area and directly north into central Wisconsin.
“The entire western half of the state will be in the spotlight,” Gehring added.
Forecasters expected the storms to weaken as they move east through Badger State and they were right.
“Right now, we think the worst storm will weaken by the time they hit Milwaukee,” Gehring said. Forecasters expect rain and storms to move across Lake Michigan around midnight.
Meanwhile, the strong wind warning stays in place overnight for all of Wisconsin. These strong winds will occur even if there is no storm with them, Gehring said.
“We could still have wind gusts of up to 60 mph without the storms,” Gehring said. “It’s going to blow like crazy for the rest of the night. It’s a huge windstorm.”
Tornadoes, reported wind damage
This was all caused by a powerful storm or a low pressure system that generates strong winds.
“It’s a very deep and powerful low pressure system that generates a huge wind field,” Gehring said. “It’s extremely windy throughout the depth of the atmosphere.”
High wind warnings are being posted statewide through Thursday morning.
“There is a lot on the table for Wednesday night,” said Paul Collar, meteorologist with the Sullivan Weather Service.
“These kinds of situations don’t come up that often, especially in December,” added Collar. It is a very dynamic system that is evolving.
“The wind is going to have the potential to do more than blow your trash,” Collar added. “Trees can be knocked over … and maybe power lines.”
High wind warnings issued statewide
Forecasters are warning people to stay indoors for the rest of the night.
“People should avoid being outside in wooded areas and around trees and branches,” the weather service said in a statement. “If possible, stay in the lower levels of your house during the windstorm and avoid windows. Be careful if you have to drive.”
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is warning motorists to be especially careful if driving in the state tonight.
“Sustained winds and gusty winds can make driving difficult, especially for high-profile vehicles like trucks, which are at risk of losing control or tipping over in windy conditions,” the agency said in a statement. .
“Truckers carrying empty trailers or light loads are particularly vulnerable,” DOT said. “Be very careful in open areas where gusts of wind could push a truck out of its lane.”
Here’s a breakdown of watches and warnings:
- Watch the tornado. The day before is in effect from now until 11 p.m. Counties included in tornado monitoring are Adams, Barron, Buffalo, Chippewa, Clark, Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Dunn, Eau Claire, Grant, Green, Green Lake, Iowa, Jackson, Juneau, Lafayette, LaCrosse, Marathon, Marquette , Monroe, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Portage, Richland, Rusk, Sauk, Sainte-Croix, Taylor, Trempealeau, Vernon, Waushara and Wood.
- Milwaukee Metro. A severe wind warning goes into effect Wednesday at 9 p.m. and continues until Thursday 9 a.m. for the Milwaukee metropolitan area, including Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Fond du Lac, Sheboygan counties Dodge, Jefferson and Walworth. Southwesterly winds of 25 to 35 mph and gusts of up to 65 mph are possible, the weather service said.
- Elsewhere in southern Wisconsin. A strong wind warning goes into effect Wednesday at 6 p.m. and continues through Thursday at 6 a.m. for Marquette, Green Lake, Sauk, Columbia, Iowa, Dane, Lafayette, Green and Rock counties. Southwesterly winds of 25 to 35 mph with gusts up to 65 mph are forecast for these areas, including Madison.
- Northeastern Wisconsin. A severe wind warning goes into effect Wednesday at 9 p.m. and continues through Thursday 9 a.m. for Brown, Door, Outagamie, Brown, Kewaunee, Winnebago, Calumet, Manitowoc, southern Marinette and southern counties. Oconto. Southwesterly winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts of up to 60 to 70 mph are possible, the weather service said.
- North Central Wisconsin. A severe wind warning goes into effect Wednesday at 9 p.m. and continues until Thursday 9 a.m. for Marathon, Shawano, Wood, Portage, Waupaca and Waushara counties. Southwesterly winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts of up to 60 to 70 mph are possible, the weather service said.
- Southwestern Wisconsin. A severe wind warning goes into effect Wednesday at 6 p.m. and continues through Thursday at 6 a.m. for La Crosse, Monroe, Juneau, Adams and Vernon counties. Winds southerly 25 to 35 mph turning southwest with gusts up to 65 mph expected. Southerly winds of 25 to 35 mph, turning southwest, could have gusts of up to 65 mph, the La Crosse weather service office said in a statement.
“Severe and widespread wind gusts of 60 to 75 mph as well as at least a few tornadoes are likely from late afternoon to tonight across the Missouri Valley to the Upper Mississippi Valley,” according to a national statement from the Storm Prediction Center. “Integrated gusts of 80-100 mph and a strong nighttime tornado or two are also possible …”
Collar said forecasters feared some of the storms would mix with the already strong gusts of wind to create even stronger winds.
“We’re really going to be on high alert,” Collar said. “As the low strengthens, the wind fields surrounding it will also strengthen.”
The utility prepares for the winds; said to stay away from broken power lines
Milwaukee’s utility We Energies is already bracing for the possibility of high winds, said Brendan Conway, a spokesperson for the utility.
“We are updating the staffing plans for our control center and our field resources, including having additional teams and contract teams available,” Conway said in an email.
The utility is also reviewing its inventory of items such as poles, transformers and other equipment and preparing to move them to where they might be needed, Conway said.
“We will use social media to communicate with customers today on how they can prepare for a power outage, including encouraging them to download our app and have an energy kit with blankets. , batteries, a flashlight and a phone charger, ”said Conway. .
Residents should assume that downed power lines are live and stay away from them.
“If customers come across a line, we ask them to stay at least 25 feet away and contact us or contact local law enforcement,” Conway said.
Secure Outdoor Items Now
Just about anything that could fly off or be knocked over, including Christmas decorations, should be secured.
None of this is normal for December in Wisconsin.
“We should be talking about snow,” Collar said. “Instead, we’re talking crazy speeches for mid-December in Wisconsin.”
The high temperature in Milwaukee hit 67 degrees on Wednesday in Milwaukee, erasing the previous high temperature record of 55 degrees in 1891, Collar said.
“Everyone is like, ‘We’re close to Christmas. We should be talking about a snowstorm,’” Collar added. “It will be anything but.”