Summary of long-tracked, killer tornado on May 23, 1878 in southern Wisconsin

We took a look back in the weather history books and found information on a long-tracked, killer tornado that moved east through five southern Wisconsin counties on May 23, 1878.  Here's what we found.....

The tornado spun up 10 miles west of Mineral Point in southwestern Iowa County, tore through Mineral Point, and then headed east through the counties of Dane, Jefferson, Waukesha, and Milwaukee.  It dissipated in the city of Milwaukee.

Our weather records indicated that there were 19 fatalities and 45 injuries associated with this tornado.  Some news accounts indicate that 17 of the fatalities occurred in Mineral Point, and all of the 45 injured people lived in Mineral Point.

A record book from a Mineral Point schoolhouse was carried 60 miles east.  In Primrose Township in Iowa County, the deed to Chandler Farm was found 10 miles away.

The path length of this tornado was recorded as 150 miles, which makes it the 2nd longest-tracked tornado in Wisconsin's recorded weather history.  The longest-tracked tornado in Wisconsin was 170 miles with the April 5, 1929 tornado that traveled from southwest of River falls in Pierce County to Van Buskirk in Iron County.  That tornado killed 12 people and injured 100.

The National Weather Service didn't start rating all tornadoes until 1982, therefore we have no accurate estimation of the EF-scale rating of the May 23, 1878 tornado.  Some news accounts indicate that this tornado may have been similar to an EF-4 (166-200 mph winds), which is considered violent.  Additionally, we are unable to re-evaluate the path length of the May 23, 1878 tornado to determine if it was one tornado or several different tornadoes.  As it stands, our weather record books indicate that this was one tornado.

For information on the old F-scale rating system and the new EF-scale rating system, click here.

To view a table of wind speeds produced by EF0, EF1, EF2, EF3, EF4, and EF5 tornadoes, click here.




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