Tornado roared through Wheatland 10 years ago

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Rare storm happened on unseasonably warm day.

While residents braved blustery subzero temperatures entering 2018, Western Kenosha County experienced an entirely different scenario 10 years ago, when an EF-3 tornado ripped through the Town of Wheatland and surrounding areas.

The tornado, which marks its 10th anniversary on Sunday, happened during an unseasonably warm day of 63 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

The Associated Press said in 2008 the rare January tornado was the first to hit Wisconsin during that month in 40 years.

Two weeks after the tornado, an atmospheric science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison explained the phenomena, including how the destructive storm developed.

“But on Jan. 7, the temperature was in the 60s, and the snow was evaporating, moistening the lower level of the atmosphere, so we had spring-like conditions in Southern Wisconsin,” said professor Steve Ackerman.

The spring-like conditions caused an EF-1 tornado to develop 1.5 miles northeast of Pell Lake, just northeast of Highway 12, the National Weather Service reported.

After the EF-1’s initial spin up in Pell Lake, the tornado intensified as it headed east-northeast for about 10.8 miles, and reached EF-3 status by the time the tornado blew through the Town of Wheatland.

“The worst damage observed began in the vicinity of the intersection of County Highway O and Highway 50 and continued through the Wheatland area,” the NWS states. “It was right around Highway 50 that the tornado reached its widest point, a path width of approximately 200 yards.”

The National Weather Service said the tornado was the strongest recorded in Kenosha County since the Fujita Scale ratings started in 1982.

Winds were estimated between 150 to 160 mph.

The tornado destroyed about 26 homes and damaged more than 100 other residences.

Damages were estimated at around $20 million, various news reports said.

The last reportable damage was northwest of the Village of Paddock Lake along 41st Street near highways 75 and NN, the National Weather Service states.

Meanwhile, after the tornado, Kenosha County officials said early warning sirens saved lives and prevented more serious injuries.

In an Associated Press report on Jan. 8, then-Kenosha County Executive Allan Kehl states weather warnings gave residents 15 to 20 minutes to find shelter.

Since the tornado happened in the afternoon at about 4 p.m., when children attended school and parents were at work, officials said it cut the risks of injuries.

by Jason Arndt
January 7, 2018

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Kyrie Wagner