First Tornado Locally & in Wisconsin

As we have made mention of over the past few weeks, the severe storm season has started off on a relatively quiet note. Until Thursday evening, there had not been any other tornado sightings in the Badger State.  Well, that has changed with the twister that touched down in Marathon County around 7pm on May 24th.  More on that severe storm in a moment.  However, it should be noted that the Memorial Day holiday weekend will feature more opportunities for storms, some which may be strong to severe.  It is hard to say if there will be more twisters in the state before the weekend is said and done, but I wouldn't doubt more reports of hail and wind damage in this time span.

We were anticipating severe storms in North Central Wisconsin on May 24th, thanks in large part to a few factors.  First the surge of warmer, if not hot air, into the region, accompanied by an increase in the dew points into the 50s to near 60.  Not quite to the level of very humid conditions, but certainly making it feel a bit more sticky outside. Next was the arrival of a sharp cold front, along with a wave of low pressure tracking NE along the boundary from southern MN into NW WI.  The warm, somewhat humid air being the ingredients, along with blustery winds, while the cold front & low were the proverbial trigger. 

Unlike back in April when we had some of these ingredients, plus a strong cold front, the difference this time was the available moisture and dynamics for the severe storms to get going.  There were numerous severe thunderstorm warnings, starting locally around 5pm and continuing with the last warning until just about 8:30pm. One other aspect that made this situation more dangerous was the rapid movement of the storms, tracking NE at 50-70 mph. The severe storm that spawn the tornado continued to strengthen as it entered into Marathon County.  It had already had a history of producing damaging wind gusts to the southwest of the area. Titan Radar showed as this storm was rolling through the western part of Marathon County, moderate rotation was taking place with the storm, meaning it had certainly formed a wall cloud and had the potential to produce a tornado. Sure enough at around 7pm, a weak EF0 twister was spotted by law enforcement and the public just SE of Marathon City and tracked for 5 miles to the NE, periodically lifting and touching down as it moved to near Rib Mountain, south of Sunnyvale Park.  It was described as being a rope like tornado (small in width) but very fast moving, accelerating at 60 mph.  The damage was luckily confined to downed trees in rural areas, and winds were estimated to have peaked at 85 mph.

Of course as this tornado was moving through, other parts of Wausau witnessed the shelf cloud from this supercell thunderstorm. Our radio partner at WIFC, Dave Kallaway caught these two images only a few seconds apart on the north side of town.

To define what a shelf cloud like this illustrates, it is the leading edge of a straight line wind gust front. This is not where you would end up finding a tornado, but certainly some damaging winds could and did result.  In this case, that was some downed tree branches in this part of Wausau.

There were a number of storm reports of downed trees, branches and power lines.  Some of those were related to the storms, while others were from the gusty winds we experienced during the afternoon in general. The wind gusted to as high as 50 mph in Wausau, while in the 40-45 mph in such places as Rhinelander & Marshfield. It did seem, before the thunderstorms arrived in Wausau, that dust had been kicked up in advance of the storm front, which caused the reduced visibilities. This was likely a similar scenario in many open fields across the region, including a stretch of I-39 from near Stevens Point to south of Plover.

All in all, a fair number of spots did pick up some rain, but we could certainly use more before the month comes to an end.  No less, this could be accompanied by severe storms.

For more on the EF0 tornado that hit from near Marathon City to Rib Mountain, check out the NWS Green Bay.

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