Workers assess the damage to a home in the 4800 block of 301st Street in the Town of Wheatland following a powerful tornado in 2008. Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of the tornado that destroyed more than 20 homes in the area and damage 100 others. (File photo by Earlene Frederick)

Rare, but powerful, winter storm packed winds up to 160 mph

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

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.

“To get any severe weather, we need really warm, moist air near the ground, and cool air aloft, which is typical of the spring, but not winter,” said professor Steve Ackerman.

“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.”

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.

See the Jan. 4 edition of the Burlington Standard Press for the full story.