A personal account of the Oakfield
Tornado as told by Kelly Wojahn:
"This is my personal account (to the very best of my recollection)
of what happened the night of July 18th, 1996 - the night
of the Oakfield Tornado.
That evening, my co-ed softball team was scheduled to play
a game. I remember it was beautiful out,and it was very warm.
About 85+ degrees that day. The sky was blue, but there was
a tornado watch put out at about 4:30pm. The game was set
to start at 6pm. We were at a softball
diamond in Ladoga on Hwy. TC (otherwise known as 103).
Since I have always been intruiged by storms... I kept my
eye to the sky. At that time, there wasn't a single cloud.
But by the time I was up to bat for the first time, I remember
that I saw a tiny patch of clouds Southwest of us that had
just appeared out of nowhere.
These clouds were slowly moving Northeast and very slowly growing
larger. By the time they were above our heads, they had grown
into a long, but skinny, line of clouds that stretched from
West to East. They moved to the North of us and then we all
heard a loud rumbling noise. Most of us just dismissed this
as a plane, and didn't think much of it. But then we realized
the noise was constant and not letting up. We decided it must
be coming from the thin line of clouds, which seemed very odd.
The rumbling continued for what seemed to be forever, and
then we noticed the line of clouds expanding to the North
and South and also darkening.
Not much later, the noticeably larger mass of clouds started
moving back toward us- towards the Southeast. We hurried the
game along, as we figured it would start raining any time.
We were right, a few minutes later it began to downpour.
But only for a minute or so. The clouds then stalled overhead
and became very eerie. It wasn't raining, so we continued
to play as much as we could. After 2 or 3 batters, it began
to rain hard again and it also began to hail. This wasn't
a good sign, but it let up again a couple minutes later. At
this point, we were determined to finish the game.
We all got back on the field... and it didn't rain again. A
couple of us did notice that the clouds were beginning to swirl
and expand even more. This made us feel a bit uneasy, but no
one else seemed too bothered by it.
Although it was still rumbling constantly, there hadn't
been any lightning- just rain and hail. We continued to play.
Not much later, the clouds were swirling and rotating like
crazy, but the clouds started moving quickly to the Southeast-
away from us. There was a big house and tree on the East side
of the field that blocked most of the sight in that direction
if you were batting. Only the outfielders could see past the
Then, I remember that we switched one last time... we came
in to bat, and the other team went out in the field. All of
a sudden,the fielder in left field started jumping up and
down and screaming. None of us could hear him over the rumbling.
We ran out there just as the funnel cloud he was screaming
about turned into a full-blown tornado... bigger than I ever
imagined a tornado being in real life. It was about 1/2 mile
to 3/4 miles away from us.
We stood there in awe, and then realized we needed to get out
of there. By that time, my friend's parents were already there
in their truck to pick us up (they lived about a 1/2 mile down
the road). We took the truck and rode behind the tornado so
we could get to the houses where it first touched down.
There were 3 houses in this area that were hit. We all split
up and went to see who needed help. People started coming
out of their basements in complete shock. Luckily, no one
was hurt beyond a cut or a bruise. We helped them salvage
what we could... pictures, breakables, etc. and called to
get them more help. One of the men we helped found his boat
more than 2 miles away a couple days later.
When we left this area, we used the CB in the truck to call
into Oakfield. We had a chainsaw and 2 of us knew CPR and
first aid. They had blockades everywhere, so we couldn't get
into town- even though we told them were were there to help.
It was very chaotic, so we understood.
I know that we helped as much as we could, but I wished
we could have done more. I have since learned a lot about
what I experienced that day. The Oakfield Tornado sparked
my interest in what I can do to help my community, so I have
taken storm spotting classes to learn about what I saw. There
was a good 10 minutes or so from when the clouds started rotating
to when the funnel cloud developed. If I had known more about
the structures of thunderstorms and what to watch for, I think
I could have recognized what was going on in time to warn
showing the nice rounded, rotating updraft was taken
in Ozaukee county, from the north side of Port Washington,
looking north. This tornado spun up near Fredonia and
moved southeast out over Lake Michigan. This supercell
wasn't the same one that spun up the Oakfield tornado,
but rather, one of several supercells that moved southeast
that evening across southeast Wisconsin.
A message from Rusty Kapela, Warning Coordination Meteorologist
at the NWS Office at Milwaukee/Sullivan...
You have just read a personal account of the development
of the Oakfield tornado. If you find yourself in a similar
situation, and notice a tornado spin-up, call your local law
enforcement official, and ask them to relay your report to
the National Weather Service (NWS). Of course, your personal
safety comes first - make sure you are safe, and then attempt
to relay a severe weather report. The NWS needs to know what
you observed, where it was located, and the time it occurred.
I recommend that only trained severe weather spotters call
their local law enforcement official with reports of initial
tornado development, or with reports of cloud features (rotating
wall cloud) that usually precede tornado development. Untrained
spotters are likely to mis-identify precursor cloud features
and initial tornado development, and call in false reports.
This happens many times each summer. Once you have been trained
by me, I will give you our 800-number which is reserved for
severe weather spotters. You would call your local law enforcement
official, but also call the Milwaukee-Sullivan NWS office
with your report.
The spotting of tornado development isn't easy. You need
to understand thunderstorm structure and where tornadoes usually
develop. You can easily get yourself into trouble, or relay
a false tornado, funnel cloud, or rotating wall cloud report,
if you don't understand thunderstorm structure.
You can find information on how to become a spotter at this
web site address:
You can find an "open letter" I wrote to potential spotters
at this web site address:
You can view a slide set on "Basics of Storm Spotting" at