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August 18, 2005 - Stoughton, Wisconsin Tornado - Record Outbreak

A tornado outbreak (totaling 27 confirmed) strikes Wisconsin, the most to ever occur on a single day. The cities of Viola and Stoughton, Wisconsin experience significant damage.

August 18, 2005 - Storm Chasing Stoughton Surprise

During the morning of the 18th I wasn't expecting this day to be anything spectacular severe weatherwise, due to a morning MCS and cloud cover. The residents of Stoughton, Wisconsin heard thunderstorms were in the forecast with a slight chance of severe weather. That all began to change during the early afternoon.

The skies cleared up as I left work around 12:00 p.m. to get be on standby mode for a possible storm chase across southern Wisconsin. The 1630z outlook from the Storm Prediction Center was targeting eastern Iowa for possible tornadoes. Around 2 p.m. storm chasing was becoming a reality. The local synopsis showed an area of low pressure located in southeast Minnesota along with an outflow boundary across northern Illinois and eastern Iowa drifting slowly north. Thunderstorms began to develop in far southeastern Minnesota towards La Crosse, Wisconsin. These storms would be the ones to chase.

Tornado Watch - Wisconsin - August 18, 2005SPC - Mesoscale Discussion

The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued a Tornado Watch for most of west-central and southern Wisconsin due to enhanced helicity along the outflow boundary|warm front and associated low pressure. Wind shear was adequate along with instability.

James and I set trail around 4:00 p.m. towards Madison, Wisconsin. Visually the storm had a long stretched out anvil to our northwest and was accompanied by other smaller cells to the southwest. We reached Madison and took I-39/90/94 north with reports of a tornado warning to our northwest in Sauk County which took us by surprise. The only form of communication we had was a weather radio at the time and no radar. We drove on highway 60 west toward it and realized we weren't dealing with a bow echo. This storm had an appearance of supercell characteristics. The anvil tops became noticeably thicker which meant it was strengthening. We stopped near the town of Okee, Wisconsin to take another visual look. The storm was directly to our west, with other popcorn cells trying to form to the southwest. We found ourselves in horrible terrain near Merrimac, Wisconsin, but found a magic spot of perfect visibility to view the the storm's structure. At this time, we were right in the path of a high precipitation supercell.

The isolated storms to our south were small and shifting from the southwest to the northeast. The supercell storm in front of us was heading in an east-southeast direction as most tornadic storms travel to the right of their mean flow. There was continuous thunder, which was from cloud to cloud lightning in the anvil. We noticed to our west an interesting scud feature which appeared as a wall cloud. I couldn't tell if it was rotating but dissipated after a couple of minutes. The storm structure was ever changing by the minute. Cloud to ground lightning got very close to our location but we couldn't see the lightning discharges since the forward flank downdraft region of the rain|hail was to our north causing low visibility.

To our west another rain shield was vastly approaching, which I assumed was the hook echo of the rear flank downdraft (RFD) part of the storm. There was noticeable surface inflow blowing into the storm, indicating high tornadic potential. A piece of hail had hit the car and decided to bail south. The RFD looked strong as the storm was right on our tail us and the RFD winds looked strong as rain was overlapping on itself as it hit the ground to our west. As the RFD was punching through with the clear slot visible, the tornado was right behind and it managed to weaken as the RFD occluded the circulation. We drove back north to our original position from earlier and the tornado snapped some trees while crossing the road. It was a good thing we bolted south!

We headed south towards Madison, Wisconsin where reports of a tornado hit the northern city of Stoughton, Wisconsin. We drove on I-94 to Deerfield, Wisconsin and ended up on highway 18 driving east into the city of Jefferson witnessing debris falling from the sky. There was a report of a tornado over the AM radio, 2 miles due west of our location just east of Stoughton. We saw a couple exit their car and take cover in the ditch. I told James to find the nearest house to find shelter and we came across a house. I exited the vehicle to find a storm shelter. We huddled behind the house with blinding rain and strong winds blowing in different directions. Keep in mind there was debris falling from the sky so the tornado was pretty close. The storm started to subside after 15 minutes so we walked toward our car. When doing so, three to four vehicles pulled into the driveway and asked if we lived at the house where we took shelter. Just like us, people were looking for a place of safety. The homeowners were never home not to my knowledge.

We analyzed the radar animation of the Stoughton supercell. The storm's precipitation was so strung out from west to east that covered a wide area which is a bad scenario when punching the core without a visual radar presentation of the storm. Nevertheless August 18, 2005 was Wisconsin's biggest tornado outbreak ever on record for a single day. 27 tornadoes were confirmed but the Stoughton, Wisconsin tornado was on the ground for over 50 minutes and traveled 20 miles. It destroyed numerous homes, unfortunately killing 1 person injuring over 20 and was rated a high end F3. The tornado we captured earlier in Columbia County was spawn from a cyclical supercell that produced F2 tornado damage in the city of Bluffview and Viola, Wisconsin. Who would have thought we would be storm chasing during the biggest Wisconsin Tornado outbreak on record. It was a surprise for us since conditions were somewhat marginal during the day, but the right ingredients came together later during the afternoon. I'm sure the residents of Stoughton and Viola were taken back by the powerful tornado that hit both of their areas. Surely, it should be no surprise that tornadoes can hit any place, anytime at any intensity.

August 18, 2005 - Stoughton, Wisconsin Tornado Outbreak - Resources:

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August 20, 2005 - Stoughton, Wisconsin - Tornado Damage Survey

We traveled to Stoughton, Wisconsin two days later to see if any help was needed. We completed a damage survey across various areas that occurred from the F3 Tornado. Many neighborhoods were blocked off by police and only available to residents. There were uprooted trees and fields of corn flattened. Debris including glasses and documents were recovered 1/4 of a mile south of the tornado. The tornado was strong enough to propel debris in Stoughton downstream across the Milwaukee metro area.


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