For the second time this week, heavy storms with damaging winds moved through the Madison area Wednesday, and tornado activity was confirmed in two west central Wisconsin communities.
A tornado spotted near Tomah shortly after 4 p.m. was “large and extremely dangerous,” and debris was seen “lofted” on radar, the La Crosse Tribune reported. One was also spotted near Mauston and described as “rain-wrapped,” which made it difficult to see.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday night the tornado traveled northeast from Highway 131 and Highway A for about 15 miles before leaving Monroe County north of Shennington. The tornado took down multiple trees, power lines and barns, the Sheriff’s Office said, and multiple semis were blown over causing Interstate 90 to be shut down for more than three hours.
Authorities reported widespread power outages and damage to some homes but no injuries or deaths. National Weather Service meteorologist Sarah Marquardt, of the Sullivan office, said winds in the area likely reached between 60 and 80 mph.
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There were also damaged trees and vehicles on the grounds of Mile Bluff Medical Center in Mauston, according to a news release from the center. The facility, which was using backup power until the regular power source was restored, also sustained minor damage.
As of 6:45 p.m., all severe weather, including tornado threats, had cleared from the La Crosse area, according to the National Weather Service.
In southern Wisconsin, Marquardt said there were reports of trees down and other damage around Portage.
The severe weather came amid a heat wave that pushed temperatures into the 90s and beyond Wednesday in a stretch spanning from northern Florida to the Great Lakes and covering about a third of the country’s population.
In the Madison area, 982 Madison Gas and Electric customers remained without power as of 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, a number that also reflects power lost in Monday’s storms that hadn’t been restored yet. As storms moved through Wednesday, that number temporarily jumped by hundreds more. Monday’s storm initially left about 25,000 without power, MGE said.
MGE spokesperson Kaya Freiman said MGE had not seen damage so significant for more than 30 years and the number of separate incidents was “extremely rare” for the company.
“The biggest challenges continue to be the high volume of downed lines, the large number of separate outage incidents and additional new outages that are the result of weakened trees and branches falling on power lines,” she said prior to Wednesday night’s storms.
Crews from other utilities and contractors were helping restoration efforts, but the extent of the storm damage is so great that the company still is conducting damage assessments and working to develop accurate estimated restoration times for customers without power, Freiman said.
Thursday is expected to be sunny and slightly less warm, with a high in the upper 80s.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism