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Dane County

May 23, 2004
Map of Dane County Tornado Location
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In the early evening on Sunday, May 23, 2004, a weak tornado spun up around the Windsor and Deforest area. This page will be updated with official tornado track information as available data is investigated and verified. For now, this page will contain a small collection of photographs taken by the public and submitted to us. Also, Katie Austin, who lives in Waunakee, submitted the story below which vividly describes her encounter with the tornado.

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Katie's Story

Call it beginners luck, or simply a fluke, but on a whim I looked up in the sky on May 23rd, and decided to get in my truck and drive to watch the ominous clouds forming above me. I had never "chased" a storm before, but I've always been intrigued by severe weather, and had a gut feeling I would see my first tornado. I headed north out of Waunakee on Highway Q towards the darkest part of the sky. The sun was shining all around me, but thunderstorm clouds seemed to be exploding higher into the sky by the minute in front of me. I saw what looked like the "wall clouds" I saw pictures of in storm spotting class, and headed that way.

I turned east on a highway towards DeForest, and then headed south on Highway 51. I was at a stop and go light in Downtown DeForest when approximately a mile in front of me, I saw an obvious funnel cloud come down out of the clouds. Within 10 seconds it lowered to the ground, obviously rotating. There were two young guys in the car next to mine, and they unrolled their window, and asked in disbelief if that was a tornado. People on the corner started running, and cars were turning around. The sun was still shining behind me, and light rain started falling where I was. I headed towards the tornado, being careful not to get too close.

I grabbed my cell phone to call 9-1-1. I was shaking so badly, it took about 3 tries to get it right, but I only got a busy signal. I was afraid I might be getting to close, and hills and trees had my view blocked a bit, so I slowed down and looked around. The tornado sirens were now blaring and hail and rain was starting to block my view of the sky, so I panicked just a little until I saw it again to the East, it was now just a funnel cloud, but hovering dangerously close to the ground. It was about of a mile from Downtown Deforest, and was skimming over the tops of trees, about a hundred feet from the rooftops of houses. I called the severe weather spotter line, and reported it. While I was on the phone with the NWS, it swirled smaller and smaller until it looked like a pencil, and then the clouds appeared to suck it up, and just as fast as it appeared a few minutes earlier, it was gone.

I drove a block or so down Highway 51, and there were about 6 cars pulled over to the side of the road. Witnesses told me the tornado had touched down in a field at Highway 51 and Gray Road, then came off the ground, skipped over the highway, and touched down again in another field, narrowly missing a house. They said the tornado was on the ground about 2-4 minutes.

I wanted to share my story because it illustrates how quickly Mother Nature can turn a corner, and unleash her fury literally within a few minutes of the sun shining above. It was sheer luck that the tornado touched down in a field, and not in a populated area. The warning sirens didn't sound until after I saw the funnel cloud lower to the ground. There were severe thunderstorm warnings for the area at the time, but no tornado warnings, and had it touched down elsewhere, there would have been no time for most to take cover. Although it was a "small" tornado, and didn't stay on the ground very long, as I drove home that evening, it hit me how unpredictable Mother Nature can be, and how much we are at her mercy.

Katie Austin

A sincere thanks is extended to the spotters for their willingness to share their photographs. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.