May 22nd Severe Weather

Another month later, on a Sunday, and an outbreak of severe weather in North Central Wisconsin.  What was somewhat telling about the conditions leading up to this onslaught of tornadoes and storms which produced up to 4.25" size hail was that it reminded me a lot of April 10th.  Granted the temperature contrast wasn't quite as sharp across our region, nor did dew point values surge well into the 60s.  However, the one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb was a strong low pressure swirling to our west, which in time ended up swinging through Northern Wisconsin.  Whenever there is a low set up this close to the Badger State in the spring or summer, storms are going to impact us.

In contrast to a month earlier, this go around we started out the day with early morning heavy downpours and a couple isolated storms.  Following that, a bit of fog was found from 6-8am in a good part of the area.  However by mid to late morning, we were basking in a good deal of sunshine, which was adding fuel to the fire for the development of severe storms by early afternoon. 

One thing we all do as meteorologists is take a look at the sky.  Not only for the obvious like is it raining, snowing, sunny or clear, but also to consider the make up of the clouds.  As I was checking out things at Noon on Sunday, I saw some clouds that reminded me of how things tend to look prior to the arrival of severe storms.  A few cumulus clouds mixed with cirrus clouds that were swooping up in nature.  This showing that winds were moving vertically up that could assist in hail develop with storms.  Now these weren't the cumulonimbus thunderstorm clouds that are dead on signs of immediate downpours and lightning, but signs of how the winds were in the lower to middle parts of the atmosphere.  Add to this that the surface winds were coming out of the south/southeast, while winds a few thousand feet up were swinging around to the southwest.  Enough twisting going on just on the winds alone that when the squall line or scattered storms came to life, they would mean business.  Last but not least, the instability factors all being in the moderate to favorable category and we ended up with 11 tornadoes in the state, along with two supercell storms that dropped hail up to softball size.

There were two rounds of storms that crossed through the Wisconsin River Valley.  Round 1 spurred a tornado in NW Price County, southwest of Park Falls a little after 2:30pm, while a large portion of our area had severe storms with hail and some gusty winds.  Most of this came through from 2-4:30pm.  The second batch of storms then approached western Wisconsin out Minnesota about 4pm.  By this point, there were at least a couple of supercell storms that spun up tornadoes in Minnesota and one of the storms rolled right into La Crosse with a twister.  This same storm stayed quite vigorous and lead to the EF1 to EF2 tornado that stretched for 70 miles from Tomah to Plover and was up to 800 yards wide.  Right around 5pm, in addition to that long track twister entering our viewing area, tornadoes developed again out across Price County.  In all from 5:30-6:30pm, 4 separate tornado touchdowns were documented.


Just like with our bout of severe storms on April 10th, there was lots of damage and a few injuries.  However it appears the warnings that we provided to folks were in enough time to prevent any deaths.

A few other stats to consider.  The 11 tornadoes on May 22nd rank 10th on the list for # of tornadoes in one day in Wisconsin (15 on April 10th is #6).  More so, the Tomah-Plover twister of 70 miles is the 15th longest track tornado on record in Wisconsin.  It's hard to believe but the longest twister was back on April 29, 1929 when a tornado covered 170 miles from Pierce to Iron Counties. For the year as of May 25th, 26 tornadoes have hit Wisconsin, exceeding the yearly average of 21.

For more information and radar images on the May 22nd storms, check out the NWS La Crosse, NWS Milwaukee, and NWS Green Bay websites.

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