Severe Weather Week: Recent history shows the costly effects of severe weather in the Madison area

First Warn Weather Severe Weather Week

In Wisconsin, we are fortunate to have nice weather for a majority of the time, but because we can also see that weather change, we can also experience our share of severe weather.


For southern Wisconsin, it has been 37 years since probably our most memorable severe weather event — the June 8, 1984 Barneveld tornado. Most people had gone to bed when a tornado with winds of over 200 miles per hour swept directly through the town just before 1 a.m.

In less than two minutes, 90% of the town was damaged or destroyed. Nine people died. A third of the residents — over two hundred people — were injured. About the only thing left standing was the water tower.

More recently, an EF-3 tornado struck Stoughton on August 18 in 2005. Even though it was outside of out peak tornado season, it was part of the largest single outbreak of tornadoes in state history, one of 27 that day in southern Wisconsin.

The Stoughton tornado destroyed almost 70 homes, with another 300 sustaining some damage. Twenty-three people were injured, and a man died while seeking shelter in his basement when his brick chimney collapsed on top of him.

Severe weather in Wisconsin is not confined to just tornadoes. On the evening of April 13, 2006, a hailstorm moved on a straight line from near Mineral Point through southern Madison to just north of Milwaukee. In two and a half hours, this storm dumped almost continuous hail of golfball size or larger.

The largest hailstone of four and a quarter inches in diameter was reported near Lake Mills. Damage to over 23,000 vehicles was reported to insurance companies, resulting in almost $50 million in claims. Over 20,000 homes and businesses reported $100 million of hail damage. Fortunately, this happened before the main growing season, or the crop losses would have been staggering.

Of course, Wisconsin is no stranger to flooding with its many rivers. In 2008, rivers were running high after the melting of record amounts of snow from the previous winter. Heavy rain fell over southern Wisconsin from June 5th through the weekend of the 7th and 8th. Over a foot of rain was dropped on much of the area north of Madison, with devastating results.

On the morning of June 9th, an embankment of County Highway A that separated Lake Delton from the Wisconsin River washed away, causing the lake to drain in about two hours while destroying five homes near the lake. Damage from the flooding to crops, homes, businesses, and infrastructure topped $1.5 billion.

While we can’t stop severe weather from happening, we can learn from these events and be prepared when they happen again.