CHETEK, WI– Wisconsin may sit hundreds of miles northeast of Tornado Alley, which is located from Nebraska to Texas, but the state still sees a fair share of tornadoes.
Tornadoes that do strike Wisconsin are relatively weak and short-lived, and some have been long-tracked and violent, but on May 16, 2017, one tornado touched down which would eventually make the Wisconsin history books.
According to the National Weather Service, the tornado was rated EF-3 on the Fujita scale, with winds up to 140 mph. It touched down around 4:40 p.m. along the Barron/Polk county line just east of Clear Lake. The tornado then tracked east-northeast, crossing Highway 53 between Chetek and Cameron. The storm then continued east-northeast into Rusk county, abruptly moving due east just before reaching the town of Weyerhaeuser. It continued east paralleling Highway 8, eventually destroying a home near the town of Conrath before finally dissipating around 7:15 p.m. in southwestern Price county, west of Ogema.
The tornado was on the ground for 83 miles, making it the longest on-the-ground tornado in Wisconsin history, moving through Polk, Barron, Rusk and Price counties.
One person was killed in the Chetek area, and dozens were injured.
The storm caused around $10 million in damages.
The worst of the damage occurred in the area just northwest of Chetek, but the most intense damage was near Conrath.
The Enahnced Fujita Scale (EF), which rates tornadoes based on damage, is classified as the following:
- EF-0: 65-85 mph (weak)
- EF-1: 86-110 mph (moderate)
- EF-2: 111-135 mph (significant)
- EF-3: 136-165 mph (severe)
- EF-4: 166-200 mph (extreme)
- EF-5: 200 mph + (catastrophic)
According to the National Weather Service Storm Database, there have been four strong tornadoes rated EF-2 or higher in northern Wisconsin in the past 50 years:
- September 3, 1980: F2 tornado across northern Douglas county northwest of Poplar
- June 18, 2001: F3 tornado hit Siren, which killed two and injured 16
- September 2, 2002: F3 tornado hit Ladysmith in Rusk County
- July 27, 2010: EF2 tornado near Morse in Central Ashland county
- July 1, 2011: EF2 tornado near Solon Springs
It is important to note that the Fujita (F)Scale became the EF Scale in February 2007.