Western Wisconsin residents experienced Tuesday night a weather phenomenon that’s unfortunately not a rarity in the United States.
A devastating tornado touched down in Elk Mound and traveled through the town of Wheaton before ending west of Chippewa Falls. No lives appear to have been lost, but there were injuries and extensive property damage.
Dan Horel, his girlfriend, Justina Semerad, and his two children made it to their basement as the twister struck. When it ended, Horel emerged to find only a cement basement where there once had been a home.
“I sat up on my knees,” Horel told Leader-Telegram reporter Chris Vetter, “and the house was gone.”
“It sounded like a freight train,” fellow Wheaton resident Cindy Brace told Vetter. “It was solid noise and wind. It was scary. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
They’re stories that are all too familiar in our nation, which averaged 1,125 tornadoes annually from 2016 through last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Direct deaths linked to those storms averaged 21 over that time period, but we’re already at 38 in 2019.
“Tornado Valley” in the south-central part of the nation and Florida have a disproportionate number of the damaging storms. Overall, the U.S. has roughly four times as many tornadoes each year as the rest of the world combined.
Business Insider reports that winds from the Gulf of Mexico and the Rocky Mountains merge to create ideal conditions for tornadoes in mid-America.
“To make a tornado, you need just the right mix of ingredients: Warm, humid air near the ground. Cold air higher up in the atmosphere. And wind that overlaps while moving at different speeds or directions,” reads the story. “Believe it or not, few places on Earth check all of these boxes. And none compares to the Great Plains of the United States — AKA, Tornado Alley.”
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For those forced to rebuild, the Wisconsin Better Business Bureau shared advice for dealing with contractors in an emergency that included: beware of “fly-by-night” contractors or “storm chasers” who come into the area after a storm; check out the company with the BBB at 800-273-1002 or BBB.org; check references; and never pay in full before the work is completed.
“It’s a sad fact that ‘man-made’ disasters typically follow natural disasters,” said Jim Temmer, CEO and president of the BBB in Wisconsin. “In your haste to do repairs, don’t forget to research companies before you hire them.”
Those who talked with Vetter were quick to thank neighbors, volunteers and law enforcement in the aftermath of the tornado. Damage estimates weren’t immediately available, but Gov. Tony Evers was scheduled to hold a news conference in Wheaton on Wednesday afternoon.
“My thoughts and prayers are with those who were affected by last night’s storms,” read a statement from state Sen. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie. “I am relieved to hear that there were no immediate reports of serious injuries or worse, but ... there will be a long road to recovery for some.”
Wheaton resident Ashley Edin shared that sentiment with Vetter: “It’s devastation. But my first thought is how blessed we are that everyone is safe.”
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor