How likely are tornadoes in Wisconsin?

MILWAUKEE — Strong winds throughout southeastern Wisconsin prompted a wind advisory to be issued Monday, April 16th, but Wisconsin missed the worst of the severe weather this weekend. A sixth person has died as a result of an outbreak of tornadoes throughout the Midwest. On the first day of “Severe Weather Awareness Week,” officials hope to send the reminder that tornadoes can and do occur in Wisconsin, and individuals need to be sure they’re prepared.

Rusty Kapela with the National Weather Service in Sullivan saw on the radar what made for a deadly weekend across the Midwest. “We talk about the perfect storm — this was a perfect storm from a tornado point of view. We had a deep low pressure system in the central plains, lots of cold air aloft, lots of warm, unstable, moist air coming in from the Gulf of Mexico,” Kapela said.

The storm leveled tiny Woodward, Oklahoma, while also causing significant damage in Iowa and Kansas.

Kapela says Wisconsin lucked out because there wasn’t enough instability. “You need warm, moist air coming in at the right time of day,” Kapela said. Kapela says high winds can also help fuel the storms. “You need storms to grow to a certain height in order to get enough energy and power to put large hailstones down, and spin up tornadoes and so on,” Kapela said.

Strong winds in the upper atmosphere – over 100 miles-per-hour, can keep storms from stacking high enough. While Wisconsin isn’t immune from damaging winds, the relatively cooler temperatures often make tornadoes less frequent. “We do get severe weather up here, but we don’t get the frequency they do down south in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and so on. Nor do we get the intensity as often as down there,” Kapela said.

As for this summer, Kapela says it’s likely we’ll see tornadoes in Wisconsin. “We’re going to get tornadoes this summer. We’ll probably get a couple EF2s, EF3s. Will we get an EF4 or EF5, which is a violent tornado? Hard to say, but we’re overdue,” Kapela said.

Kapela says Wisconsin is overdue because the last EF4 or EF5 tornado to hit Wisconsin occurred back in July of 1996, when an EF5 hit Oakfield. The twister injured 12 people, but no one was killed.

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