Last year at this time, we were wondering if and when strong to severe storms would impact North Central Wisconsin. All in all the spring & summer season of 2009 was unusually quiet. Along came this summer and Mother Nature seems to be making up for that lull in the stormy action with now the third week in a row of storms causing damaging winds, large hail and in this case 3 tornadoes in Ashland and Iron Counties, along with 3 more in Barron & Polk Counties. Before I go into all the details on the latest batch of wild weather, here's a link to the NWS Duluth for the most up to date details on the tornadoes in the far north, the NWS Twin Cities for those that touched down in western Wisconsin and the NWS Green Bay on some of the results of the strong rumblers that made it into Northern and Central Wisconsin.
For starters, a majority of the storms that rolled through our region which hit severe levels had gusty winds, frequent lightning and heavy downpours of rain. Let's start from the beginning. Tuesday was warm and extremely humid by Wisconsin standards. Much of the time when we have dew points well into the 60s, folks start to complain about the humidity. But on Tuesday dew point values were running in the lower to mid 70s. Even though sunshine was limited, it seemed like you could cut the air with a knife...that's how soupy it felt out there. Add to that the atmospheric instability was juiced up with CAPE values running in the 2,000-5,000 J/kg range (typically when this index is above 1,000 J/kg, that indicates at least a risk of stronger storms). One of the other parameters we look at is the Lifted Index value (LI) and this was also running in the category of a high likelihood of severe storms, in the -5 to -10 range (-1 to -4 indicates a good chance of strong storms). The wind shear, which we look at for conditions that could produce rotating storms and potential tornadoes was in the somewhat favorable category, but still not what I saw on the maps back in June 2007.
No less, the first Severe Thunderstorm Warning was hoisted during the late morning hours for southern Lincoln County. Although this storm and the accompanying ones which reached down into the Wausau area didn't cause any severe weather reports, they were big lightning producers. Power was knocked out in parts of Wausau for about an hour and a half in the aftermath of these storms. Another cluster of stronger storms then followed suit tracking through Central Wisconsin in the early afternoon. These thunderstorms weren't too notable until they slipped down into southwest Shawano County near Tigerton and Split Rock where they intensified. For a time, the storms did take on supercell characteristics, dropping large hail up to golf ball size and causing some localized heavy downpours. A separate isolated strong storm slipped down into Adams & Waushara County around 1pm, causing downed trees near Big Flats.
The most intense storms of the day began to fire up back in Central and Northern Minnesota during the early afternoon, methodically heading east into NW Wisconsin by the late afternoon. Around this time, Tornado Watches were issued first for western and northwestern Wisconsin, followed by the remainder of North Central Wisconsin shortly after 6pm. Needless to say, these storms meant business, spinning up the aforementioned 3 tornadoes in Iron & Ashland Counties, downing many trees while stranding campers and tourists on some of the islands in the area. A tornado warning was issued for parts of Price & Vilas County between 7:15pm and 8:00pm, but fortunately by this point, the storms gradually lost their rotating aspects, but not damaging wind features. Many locals in Vilas County did have trees fall along with power lines, as straight line winds of 80 to 90 mph were produced by these severe storms. Then like a path of dominoes, the storms extended in a line from NE Wisconsin all the way back into West Central Wisconsin and continued to slide east-southeast right into the late evening hours. Numerous severe thunderstorm warnings were issued, with the resulting impacts being primarily strong wind gusts that took out more trees and pulled down power lines. It was interesting to note bright flashes of light on our Live Eye Skycam, which faces off toward the northwest side of Wausau where Highway 51/29 intersect, over Stewart Ave & County Road R around 9:50pm. These were transformers literally blowing up, prior to the arrival of the storms around 10pm. This once more put folks in the dark on the west side of town for a couple of hours. Meantime, as the line of storms pushed into Central Wisconsin, they gradually lost their severe wind effects and the last of the warnings for Wood County ended just before midnight.
So how did all the storm reports break down across the state? Check out this graphic for the details.
In addition, it had been a long time since the last confirmed tornado in Iron County. One reason for this is the simple fact of the matter that the county is sparsely populated and tornadoes that could have touched down may not always be noted. No less, a trivia answer for the question on how long it had been prior to July 27, 2010 when the last twister hit is...
The Wisconsin Valley Fair will be upon us in the week ahead and there have been times in the past when severe storms threw a wrench into the festivities. The early outlook for the first few days of the fair is looking hopeful for dry and relatively quiet weather conditions, with highs well into the 80s.
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