The first tornadoes ever recorded in Wisconsin in the usually frigid month of February tore through mostly rural areas on a day that broke records for warmth, setting up the perfect scenario for the type of severe weather normally seen in the late spring and summer. The storms left a swath of destruction that included dead and missing cows, roofs blown off homes, destroyed storage sheds and barns, trashed vehicles, and shattered windows. At least two tornadoes were confirmed south of Madison, and the National Weather Service was investigating reports of several more spawned from storms that swept across the southeastern part of the state around 5:30pm Thursday.
One confirmed tornado near Evansville was a "high end" F2, the weather service said. Those tornadoes are described as significant, with winds in this particular twister topping out at 135mph. It was on the ground for 36 minutes, traveling 24.5 miles with a maximum width of 500 yards. Another tornado that touched down near Juda was an F1 with peak winds of 110mph and on the ground for 14 minutes, covering 8.35 miles with a maximum width of 50 yards, the weather service said. There were no reports of significant injuries. Officials reported dozens of buildings, power lines, and other structures damaged in the path of the storm that formed in eastern Iowa and died out near Milwaukee.
Winter tornadoes are almost unheard of, especially in northern states. The temperature was a record high for the date: 59 degrees. Connie Arndt, 72, stood in disbelief Friday among the debris of a rental house she owns outside Evansville. "All of us are in denial that this is February," she said. "It's an absolute shock." Matt Artis, 34, said he heard a "big bang." He got his mother and their dog into the bathroom just as the tornado hit. He said he emerged from the bathroom, looked up, and saw nothing but the night sky. The tornado had torn the roof from their home.