A Century of Wisconsin Weather in Review
The following list is a compilation of some of the more significant weather events in Wisconsin over the last 100 years. They have been broken down into categories, and are listed in chronological order. The determination of the most significant events in Wisconsin since 1900 is left to the reader. The events are taken from National Weather Service records, state and national climate records, and anecdotal accounts from various media sources throughout the state.
Convective Weather (Tornadoes, Thunderstorms, Wind and Hail)
- Tornado outbreak - July 3, 1907 - Clark, Jackson, Monroe, Juneau, Green Lake, and Sauk counties.
14 deaths. A family of 3 or 4 separate, intense tornadoes moved through west central and central Wisconsin.
- Deadliest tornado this century - September 21, 1924 - Eau Claire through Oneida counties.
- Deadliest Year for tornadoes this century - 43 deaths in 1924
- Deadliest Month for tornadoes this century - 36 deaths in September 1924
- 26 deaths 9/21/24- Tornado with a 120 mile long path thru Eau Claire, Clark, Marathon,
Taylor, Lincoln and Oneida counties.
- 10 deaths 9/21/24- Tornado with a 90 mile long path thru Rusk, Barron, Bayfield, Sawyer and Ashland counties.
- Palm Sunday tornadoes - April 11, 1965 - Southern Wisconsin - 6 tornadoes; 3 dead, 65 injured; Est. $5 million to $10 million in damage.
- State Fair Park tornado - August, 11 1969 - 146 injured; Est. $100,000 to $500,000 in damage.
- Oshkosh tornado - April 21,1974 - 35 injured; Est. $3.2 million in damage; F4 rating.
- Derecho - July 4, 1977 - Northern Wisconsin. 100 mph to 120 mph measured wind gusts,
estimated 135 mph wind gusts; 172,000 acres of trees leveled; cornfields flattened. Eyewitness account stated "The storm looked demonic..."as it approached, "...with strong winds and hail lasting 20 minutes."
Damage swath 17 miles by 166 miles; over $4 million in damage.
- Derecho - July, 15, 1980 - Western and central Wisconsin.
Widespread wind damage from wind gusts to over 100 mph.
- Year with the most recorded tornadoes in the state - 44 tornadoes in 1980.
- Tornado outbreak - April 26-27, 1984 - All but extreme northeast Wisconsin. 11 tornadoes were spawned by 2 squall lines that crossed the state. The first entered western Wisconsin the night of April 26th, and produced a tornado in Polk county, and another in Wood county. The second squall line moved into western Wisconsin late in the morning of April 27th. This line produced 9 additional tornadoes, responsible for all the deaths and most of the injuries. The 2 strongest tornadoes, both rated F4, hit near Wales in Waukesha
county, killing 1 and injuring 14, and in the St. Germain area on the border between Vilas and Oneida counties, killing 1 and injuring 8. Overall, the storms killed 3 and injured over 40 people. An estimated $28 million dollars
in damage was done by the two squall lines.
- Barneveld tornado - June 6-7, 1984 - 9 dead, 200 injured; $40.0 million in damage; F5 rating.
- Month with the most recorded tornadoes in the state - 28 tornadoes in June, 1993
- Costliest tornado this century - Oakfield July 18, 1996 - 12 injured; $40.4 million in damage; F5 rating.
Part of a tornado outbreak that produced 12 tornadoes across the state, 10 in southern Wisconsin.
- Hail storm - March 29,1998 - Central and east central Wisconsin. Two prolific thunderstorms
produced baseball and grapefruit-sized hail over a 14 county area. 4 inch diameter hail was reported in St. John in Calumet county, with numerous 1 to 3 inch hail reports. Damage topped $10 million dollars in Waushara, Winnebago, Outagamie, Brown and Calumet counties alone.
- Derecho - May 30-31, 1998 - Central and southern Wisconsin. 75 mph to 128 mph measured wind gusts (max 128 mph in southern Dodge Co....highest measured gust in Wisconsin history); 3 deaths, 37 injuries; $61.8 million in damage across the southern two-thirds of the state.
- Straight-line winds - June 27, 1998 - Western and central Wisconsin. Two main paths of concentrated damage where winds gusted between 90 and 120 mph. The northern path extended east-southeast from Winona, Mn., crossing Interstate 90 near Tomah. The southern path started near the La Crosse/Vernon county line, and extended south-southeast through grant county. Ten western Wisconsin
counties were declared Federal disaster areas. Damage estimates topped $4 million dollars alone in Trempealeau county, and exceeded $1 million dollars in La Crosse, Vernon, and Jackson counties.
- Door County tornado - August 28, 1998. Waterspout developed over the Bay of Green Bay and moved onshore southwest of Egg Harbor. 2 injured. Damage path ranged from 1/4 to ½ mile wide.
$7 million dollars in damage. F3 rating.
- Heavy snow and ice - December 27-28 1904. Southern and central Wisconsin. 26 inches of snow in Neillsville (Clark County) in 24 hours. Still stands as record for 24 hour snowfall in the state.
- Heavy snow and wind - November 27-28, 1905. Northwest Wisconsin. 7 inches of snow. Sustained winds of 42 mph for 29 straight hours. 65 mph winds for 13 continuous hours. Severe drifting.
Ship Mataafa grounded and breaks in two in Duluth harbor.
- Heavy snow and ice - January 30-February 1, 1915. Southern and central Wisconsin. Widespread glazing; 10 inches of snow in Milwaukee.
- Blizzard - February 12-14, 1923. Statewide. Heavy snow and high winds lead to severe drifting.
- Blizzard - February 4-5, 1924. Southern Wisconsin. Heavy snow and gusty winds. 20.3 inches In Milwaukee - Heaviest snowfall in 24 hours.
- Blizzard - February 8-10, 1936 - Statewide. Heavy snow and strong winds cause severe drifting.
- Armistice Day blizzard - November 11-12, 1940. Western Wisconsin. Heavy snow with winds of 50 to 80 mph. 10 to 20 foot drifts. Temperatures fell from the 60s on the morning of the 11th, to the single digits by the morning of the 12th. 13 deaths in Wisconsin, mainly duck hunters along the Mississippi River.
- Heavy snow and ice - November 6-8, 1943. Statewide. 10 to 18 inches of snow. Ice accumulations along with snow blocked roads for several days.
- Blizzard of 1947 - January 28-30, 1947. Southern Wisconsin. Longest lasting on record in southern Wisconsin. 18 to 27 inches of snow. 35 - 45 mph winds with gusts to 60 mph. 10 to 15 foot drifts.
- Snowstorm 1973 - April 8-9, 1973. South half of state. 10 to 20 inches of heavy, wet snow. Wind gusts to 50 mph. Many roads, including the interstates, were closed for 2 days. Thunderstorms accompanied the snow, with snowfall rates peaking at 2-3 inches per hour at the height of the storm.
- Major snowstorm - November 9-10, 1975. Northern Wisconsin. 10 to 14 inches of snow. Wind Gusts in excess of 50 mph; hurricane force winds over Lake Superior. Edmund Fitzgerald sinks Nov. 10th on Lake Superior.
- Blizzard of 1975 - January 10-12, 1975. Eastern Nebraska/Western Iowa through Minnesota to Western Wisconsin. 12 to 24 inches of snow. 80mph wind gusts. 20 foot drifts. Below zero temperatures.
- Ice storm - March 4-5, 1976. Southern and eastern Wisconsin. Ice accumulations of up to 5 inches downed trees, power lines and poles, and glazed roads. Wind gusts up to 60 mph.
Rural areas without power for 10 days.
- Heavy Snow - December 30-31, 1978. Southeast Wisconsin. New Year's Eve revelers had their plans severely curtailed when up to a foot of snow fell in portions of southeast Wisconsin.
- Blizzard - January 25-27, 1978. Southeastern Wisconsin. 1 to 2 feet of snow. 50 to 70 mph winds. 10 to15 foot drifts.
- Near Blizzard - January 12-14, 1979. Southeast. 12 to 20 inches of snow. Drifts to 8 feet.
- Record snow depth in Milwaukee - 33 inches on ground between January 25-27, 1979. Depth reached after a monthly record 27.9 inches of snow fell in December 1998, and another 33.3 inches
of snow fell between January 1-25, 1979.
- Blizzard - January 3-4, 1982. Southeast half of state. 8 to 16 inches of snow. This storm was followed on January 10th, with strong winds and an Arctic outbreak, bringing sharply colder temperatures.
Wind chill readings in Milwaukee dipped to 83 degrees below zero, with a low temperature of 25 degrees below zero, and 27 mph sustained winds, with gusts to 45 mph. The record low temperature for Milwaukee
was set on January 17, 1982 at 26 degrees below zero This mark was tied on February 3, 1996.
- Blizzard - January 22-23, 1982. North half of state. 10 to 20 inches of snow.
- Heavy snow - November 30-December 2, 1985. Statewide (except southeast corner). Widespread 10 to 18 inches of snow.
- Blizzard - December 14-15, 1987. South half of state. 10 to 17 inches of snow. Wind gusts to 73 mph along the Lake Michigan shore in Milwaukee, generated 10 to 15 foot waves. The large waves repeatedly pushed a Greek cargo ship into a dock in the harbor, causing $100,000 in damage . Washington county reported 16 inches of snow. Milwaukee and Madison had 13 inches of snow.
- Unseasonably early and late snow - October 19-20, 1989 and May 10, 1990. The winter season
of 1989-90 was bracketed by 2 heavy, wet snows in eastern and southeastern Wisconsin.
Milwaukee recorded 6.3 inches of snow on October 19th and 20th that coated power lines and trees still full of fall foliage. The weight of the snow dropped trees and power lines, cutting off power to eight thousand
residents. The same situation occurred on May 10th, 1990 when 6 to 8 inches of snow fell in a band that extended from southern Oconto county, to northern Racine and Walworth counties. Trees, with their spring leaves sprouting, caught more of the snow than if they had been bare. Again, the weight of the wet snow, accompanied by 35 mph winds, snapped tree limbs and power lines. 30,000 customers were without power for two days, with damage totaling $4 million dollars.
- Blizzard - December 2-3, 1990. South half of state. 10 to 20 inches of snow with strong, gusty winds. Madison had 17.3 inches of snow (most recorded in 24 hours).
- Halloween Snow Storm - October 31- November 2, 1991. Northwest and west central Wisconsin. 15 to 30 inches of snow. 6 to 10 foot drifts.
- Heavy Snow - January 25-27, 1996. South central and southeastern Wisconsin. A major winter
storm dumped 6 to 15 inches of snow over southern Wisconsin. 40 mph winds kept snow plows off the highways, and Interstate 90/94 was closed in several stretches around Madison. Thunder accompanied the snow in the
afternoon hours of the 25th, with snowfall rates peaking at 3 to 4 inches per hour. Madison recorded 8 inches of snow in less than 2 hours, with a total of 13.4 inches. Berlin and Markesan (Green Lake county) reported 15 inches of snow, with Oconomowoc (Waukesha) and Janesville (Rock) receiving 6 inches.
- Record Cold - January 31- February 4, 1996. High temperatures ranged from the teens to twenties below zero; lows dropped to the 30s to 50s below zero. State's record coldest temperature -55 F set
in Courderay on February 2nd and 4th.
-18.3 degree state average temperature is the second coldest 4-day stretch in history. (Coldest was -18.6 avg from February 8-11, 1899). Many all time, monthly, and daily low temperature records set across the state.
- Record seasonal snowfall for the state - Hurley, Wi. 277.7 inches in the winter of 1996-97. Eight consecutive months where snow was measured somewhere in the state - October 1996 to May 1997.
Six to eight inches of snow fell in northwest Wisconsin on May 11-12, 1997.
- Snowstorm - March 13-14, 1997. Northern two thirds of Wisconsin. 12 to 28 inches of snow.
28 inches recorded in Wautoma (Waushara county). 19 inches was recorded at Tomah (Monroe county), with 12 inches at Hayward (Sawyer county). Green Bay (14.5 inches) and La Crosse (14.3 inches) set 24 hour snowfall records for the month of March. Some thundersnow helped contribute to the large snowfall totals.
- Blizzard/Winter Storm of 1999 - January 2, 1999 - Southern and eastern Wisconsin. 10 to 20inches of snow across the southern half of the state...with 10 to 12 inches in the northeast and north central sections of the state. Wind gusts of 45 mph to 63 mph.
- Flood of 1965 - Spring 1965 - West central Wisconsin. Rains and snow melt-off trigger a
record setting flood on the Mississippi River. River stage at La Crosse
reaches 17.9 feet on April 22, 1965, higher than the maximum stage during
the flooding of 1993, which was 17.42 feet.
- Flash Flood 1986 - August 6, 1986. Milwaukee. 6 inches of rain fell in 6 hours, with 3 inches of rain between 12 noon and 1 pm. 1death. Roads, basements and businesses
flooded or undermined. $8 million dollars in damage.
- Floods of 1993 - April to August 1993 - Upper Mississippi River and it's tributaries. Part of the most devastating U.S. flood on record in terms of damage. 16 to 20 inches of
rain fell between June 1st and August 31st south and west of a line from the Twin Cities...to Eau Claire...to Green Bay...to just west of Milwaukee. 17
counties were declared flood disaster areas in western and central sections of the state at the end of June, with 39 counties in the declaration by the end of
July. It is estimated that $43 million dollars in infrastructure damage was
done, with nearly $1 billion in agricultural losses affecting 2.25 million acres
and 56,000 farmers. The river gage at Bucombe, on the Mississippi River
two miles north of the Wisconsin/Illinois border, peaked at 28.66 ft. This was13.66 feet above the flood stage of 15 feet.
- Flash Flood - July 17-18 1993. 12 to 13 inches of rain in 4 hours turned the Baraboo River and Skillet Creek into raging torrents of water. A young boy was killed, when the car he was riding in was swept away by the flood waters. Damage to homes, businesses, roads, and Devils Lake State Park totaled around $8 million
- Flash Floods 1996 - June 17-18 1996. Southern Wisconsin. In Ozaukee county, 13.5 inches of rain fell in Port Washington in a 3-day period. 1000 homes and 100 businesses
suffered damage. Roads closed, with widespread soil erosion and crop damage in the area.
- July 18 1996. South central and southwestern Wisconsin. Green and Lafayette
Counties received 10 to 12 inches of rain in 5 hours. 25,000 acres of farmland
- Flash Floods 1997 - June 21, 1997. Southeast Wisconsin. 5 to 10 inches of rain in 30 hours led to flash flooding from Fond Du Lac and Sheboygan counties, south to Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. $90.6 million dollars in flood damage. Rescue efforts by local law enforcement and fire officials were responsible for
no deaths or injuries.
- Flash Floods 1998 - August 4-6, 1998 - South central to southeastern Wisconsin. 3 to 8 inches of rain fell across south central and extreme southern Wisconsin on the 4th and
again on the 5th. There was one injury and 3 million dollars in damage. On the morning of the 6th, 10 to 12 inches of rain fell across Sheboygan county, with
5 to 12 inches recorded in Waukesha and northern Milwaukee counties that
afternoon. 2 deaths and one injury were attributed to these floods, with nearly $60 million dollars in damages.
- Flash Flood 1999 - Northeast Wisconsin. Forest and Florence counties received 5 to 8 inches of rain in just a few hours. 49 homes and 2 businesses were damaged by the water. 50 to 70 miles of roads required repair. $1.6 million dollars in damage.
Heat and Drought
- Dust Bowl years - 1934-1936. Many daily/all-time maximum temperature records still stand.
Highest temperature ever recorded in Wisconsin - 114 degrees on July 13,
1936 at the Wisconsin Dells. The following is a list of major cities that set all time records for highest temperature.
- Oshkosh - 107 degrees - July 13, 1936
- Appleton - 107 degrees - July 14, 1936
- Madison - 107 degrees - July 14, 1936
- Milwaukee - 105 degrees July 24, 1934
- Green Bay - 104 degrees July 13, 1936
- Most consecutive days of 100 degrees or higher in Milwaukee - 4 days July 8 - 11, 1936.
- Drought of 1988 - Most days with temperatures of 100 degrees or higher - Six days in Milwaukee, with 4 of the days in August (record for most 100 degree readings in one month). Warmest average temperature for a summer (June-August) in Milwaukee - 73.8 degrees (tied with the summer of 1995).
36 days recorded high temperatures of 90 or above in Milwaukee. The all time
high temperature record was set in Eau Claire - 104 degrees July 15, 1988 and
August 1, 1988
- Heat Wave - Summer 1995.
- June 17-27,1995. 9 direct and indirect deaths due to the excessive heat.
High temperatures well into the 90s, with heat index values of 98 to 104.
Temperatures were 15 to 20 degrees above normal. The high temperature in
Milwaukee of 96 degrees on June 18, 1995, tied the record high for the date.
The record was first set on June 18, 1987.
- July 12-15, 1995. 141 deaths in Wisconsin. Greatest single event of weather-related deaths in Wisconsin history. High temperatures of 100 to 108 degrees. Heat index values of 120 to 130. Part of larger heat wave that
affected the central U.S. Tied with the summer of 1988 for the warmest
average temperature for a summer. All time record highs were set in:
La Crosse - 108 degrees - July 13, 1995
Sheboygan - 108 degrees - July 14, 1995
- Heat Wave - Summer 1999. July 28-31,1999. Dew point readings in the upper 70s to lower 80s,
combined with temperatures in the 90s and 100s to produce heat index vlues of 110 to as high as 125.
Night time temperatures were 70 degrees or above for the last 11 days of July. 8 direct deaths and 6 indirect deaths are attributed to the excessive heat. The dew point reading of 82 degrees recorded at 1 pm on July 30th, tied July 4, 1977 for the mark as the highest dew point reading in Milwaukee.
Other Significant Weather Events and Records
- High wind event - November 10, 1998. Southeastern two-thirds. 12 to 16 hours of strong, sustained gradient winds of 30 to 40 mph...with gusts of 55 to 70 mph.
Strongest wind gust - 93 mph at the National Weather Service in La Crosse.
Duluth-Superior recorded their lowest barometric pressure ever- 28.475 inches.
5 deaths; 6 injured. Est. $10 to 20 million dollars in damage.
- Consecutive days of low temperatures at or below zero - January 19-31, 1963. The longest stretch of days this century with low temperatures at, or below, zero in Milwaukee. The longest streak on record is 17 days, from January 27-February 12, 1895.
- Temperature Records:
- Consecutive months of above normal average monthly temperatures.
Madison and Milwaukee - 20 months (December 1997 through July 1999).
- Consecutive days with highs above 32 degrees.
Milwaukee - 283 days (March 2 - December 9, 1994)
Madison - 280 days (February 13 - November 19, 1981)
- Least number of consecutive days with highs above 32 degrees.
Milwaukee - 196 days (April 24 - November 6, 1910)
Madison - 185 days (April 10 - October 12, 1909)
- Lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the state - 28.45 inches at Green Bay April 3, 1982
- Precipitation records 1900 - 1999
Most precipitation in one hour - 7 inches - July 17, 1993 near Baraboo (Sauk county)
Most precipitation in a day - 11.72 inches - June 24, 1946 Mellen (Ashland county)
Most precipitation one month - 18.33 inches - June 1996 Port Washington (Ozaukee county)
Highest annual average - 36.91 inches - Lake Geneva (Walworth county)
Average computed with data from 1961- 1990.
Least precipitation in one year - 12 inches - 1937 Plum Island (Door county)
Least amount of annual rainfall in Milwaukee - 18.69 inches in 1901.
Most snowfall in one day - 26.0 inches - December 27, 1904 Neillsville (Clark county)
Most snowfall in one month - 82.0 inches - November 1991 Brule (Douglas county)
Most snowfall in a season - 277.7 inches - 1996-97 Hurley (Iron county)
Highest annual average snowfall - 125.3 inches - Gurney (Iron county)
Average computed with data from 1952-1981.
Please direct any questions or comments to the authors of the list...Bob McMahon ( Robert.McMahon@noaa.gov )
and Rusty Kapela ( Rusty.Kapela@noaa.gov )