A line of strong storms raced through northwestern Wisconsin Friday evening, triggering numerous weather watches and warnings. The storms left a trail of toppled trees and downed power lines, but fortunately only minor property damage.
The approaching storm led to officials evacuating the Northland Mardi Gras grounds in Ladysmith, where hundreds had already gathered fir the second night of the 4-day festival.
The preemptive decision to shut down the festival was based on 70-90 mile per hour winds being reported in neighboring Barron County, according to Ladysmith Police Chief Kevin Julien.
“I felt it would be in the best interest of the public to shut the festival down,” Juline said.
Julien cited the greatest possible danger was likely the large amount of lightning being generated by the storm and the many tall trees at Memorial Park and festival equipment on the grounds.
“It is better to err on the side of caution,” Julien said.
Ladysmith was spared from a direct hit, with winds in the city estimated at about 40-50miles per hour.
Julien praised the public for quickly heeding the evacuation warnings and clearing the grounds in an orderly manner, taking only minutes to do so. He said carnival workers took shelter in their private vehicles or in the designated shelters of the Armstrong and Beach pavilions kitchens.
According to the National Weather Service, two tornadoes embedded within a large swath of straight line winds occurred July 19 across Polk and Barron counties. While many trees were damaged across both counties, it was clear given the tree fall pattern which resulted from straight line winds and which were the result of tornadoes.
A brief EF-0 tornado caused uprooted and downed trees alongside damage to roof panels of outbuildings on a farmstead 2.9 miles northeast of the village of Turtle Lake, on Friday evening. Maximum winds were estimated to be 75 miles per hour.
An EF-1 tornado uprooted and downed trees in a concentrated path beginning 3.3 miles northwest of the village of Turtle Lake on Friday evening, ending 3 miles northeast of the village. Maximum winds were estimated to be 90 mph with a path length of 3 miles, and a max width of 1/3 mile.
EF-0 and Ef-1 tornadoes are classified as “weak” tornadoes on the Enhanced Fujita Scale used to classify tornadoes into categories based on strength.
In addition to the two tornadoes, widespread straight line winds raked across northern and eastern Polk County and most of Barron County. Most of the damage was to trees, although some light structural damage was also noted. Trees fell toward the east southeast, which is consistent with the strong west northwest wind.
Maximum wind was estimated at 90 mph given the tree damage and a measured gust of 84 mph in Cushing in Polk County. The same weather station measured a sustained 73 mph wind for 5 minutes.
The storm caused some tree damage in the southwest part of Rusk County, according to Sheriff Jeff Wallace. He said the downed trees resulted in road blockage.
Electrical service had yet to be restored to some parts of town of Rusk as of Monday morning, according to Rusk County Emergency Management Director Tom Hall.
“Trees were blocking roads, and power lines were down,” said Hall, who toured the damaged areas over the weekend. He noted significant damage along Hogback Road west of County W, north of Chetek.
“It was impressive Friday night,” Hall said. “There were trees and power lines down to the southwest and scattered trees down everywhere else.”
“I didn’t see a lot of home damage, and no one has reported anything,” Hall said.
Hall also noted tree damage from the storm north of Hawkins.
“There was no structural damage reported,” Hall said.
Gov. Tony Evers declared a statewide State of Emergency following widespread severe storms, torrential rains, and tornadoes that impacted Wisconsin in recent days. Downed trees and power lines have caused major power outages in northern Wisconsin, road closures due to debris and damage to homes and businesses.
“I know many people, especially in northern and central Wisconsin have been impacted by the strong storms and power outages,” Evers said. “The first responders and utilities have been doing a great job, working non-stop since the storms hit. I want to make sure all state resources are available to help get the power back on and debris removed.”
The governor’s declaration directs all state agencies to provide assistance and authorizes Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, to activate the National Guard to assist local authorities as needed.
The town of Ojibwa in Sawyer County declared a disaster declaration. Debris is still being cleared throughout the county. Some cabins and homes have minor damage to roofs.
The Lac Courte Oreilles Nation reported most of the downed trees over roadways have been cleared from roadways. Xcel Energy is working on power restoration.
There is a possibility some aid could be made available to Rusk County, but those funds are contingent on the estimated value of reported damage in this area, according to Hall.
“Most of what I saw Friday night and Saturday was neighbors helping neighbors,” Hall said.
The Northland Mardi Gras grounds at Memorial Park in the city were evacuated for safety, according to Ladysmith Police Chief Kevin Julien.
He also said he was not told of any significant storm-related damage in the city.