Those who need proof that severe weather happens often in Grant County need remember only two dates:
June 16, 2014: Two tornadoes strike the north and south sides of Platteville with no warning around 10:40 p.m. UW–Platteville experiences an estimated $18.6 million in damage.
June 22, 2015: 53 weeks to the day after the 2014 tornadoes, southern Grant County is hit by winds estimated as high as 70 mph around 9 a.m., causing more widespread damage than the 2014 tornadoes.
Since 1844, according to the National Weather Service, among Wisconsin’s 72 counties Grant County is:
• Second in the state for severe weather events, including tornadoes, hail of 1 inch or larger, and thunderstorm winds greater than 57 mph — 433, or an average of five every two years.
• Second in the state for tornadoes, with 64.
• Second in the state for “severe hail,” hail of 1 inch or larger, about one per year.
• Third in the state for “flood events,” which have happened more often than tornadoes.
• Sixth in the state for severe thunderstorm wind events — an average of one per year — one of which caused the county’s only recorded severe weather-related death, in addition to one death from a lightning strike, since 1982.
Wisconsin’s Tornado & Severe Weather Awareness Week is April 11–15, including two statewide tornado drills Thursday, April 14.
A mock tornado watch will be issued statewide April 14 at 1 p.m., followed by a mock tornado warning from 1:45 to 2 p.m., and another mock tornado warning at 6:55 p.m. The warnings will be given by radio and TV stations that participate in the national Emergency Alert System, NOAA Weather Radio and by many communities’ outdoor severe weather and fire sirens.
In case of expected severe weather, the tornado drills will be held Friday, April 15 at the same time. The tornado drill will take place even if the sky is cloudy, dark or rainy, according to the state Division of Emergency Government.
Wisconsin averages 23 tornadoes each year, but had 17 last year, none larger than an EF1 on the Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado strength based on damage.
In a typical year, according to former KWWL-TV meteorologist Jeff Kennedy, Wisconsin gets 29 severe thunderstorm watches and 11 tornado watches. Out of the more than 40 days with thunderstorms each year, a Wisconsin county on average receives five to 10 severe thunderstorm warnings per year and one or two tornado warnings per year.
While Grant County averages a tornado about once every three years — based on data that the NWS admits is incomplete before 1950 — last year was the first year in the past four years there wasn’t a tornado in Grant County. A tornado hit a farm near Bloomington Sept. 4, 2012. Another tornado went across the Mississippi River and struck near Bagley May 29, 2013., one day before 70-mph winds caused damage outside Lancaster. The Platteville tornadoes were followed by another tornado near Fennimore June 29, 2014.
While April is usually the month the state Division of Emergency Management focuses on severe weather, Wisconsin has had tornadoes in every month except one, February. Severe weather prompted tornado watches in northwest Illinois March 15.
The National Weather Service will hold a storm spotter training session in the Lancaster High School Hillery Auditorium Monday, April 18 at 6:30 p.m.
Watches and warnings
Severe thunderstorm watch: Thunderstorms with hail 1 inch or larger and wind gusts faster than 58 mph are possible. Be prepared to move to safety in case a warning is ussued.
Tornado watch: Severe thunderstorms with tornadoes are possible. Be prepared to move to safety in case a warning is issued. Read or listen to the watch broadcast to find out which counties are in the watch area.
Severe thunderstorm warning: A thunderstorm with large hail and damaging winds has been reported or indicated by weather radar.
Tornado warning: A tornado has been spotted, or a tornado or severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado has been detected by weather radar. Move to a place of safety immediately.
Where to take shelter from tornadoes
Home or building: Avoid windows. Move to a basement, and get under a sturdy table or the stairs. If a basement is not available, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and cover yourself with towels, blankets or pillows. If possible, get under a sturdy table, desk or counter. Put as many walls as possible between you and the storm. Wearing a bike helmet will help protect your head.
Outdoors: Seek shelter in a sturdy building. If you cannot get to shelter, stay in your vehicle with the seatbelt on and place your head below the windows. Do not seek shelter under an overpass.
Mobile homes: Even if tied down, they offer little protection from tornadoes. You should leave a mobile home and go to the designated storm shelter or the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building.
Schools: Go to the interior hall or room. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.