National Weather Service remembers Oakfield F5 tornado 25 years later

Oakfield residents will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of a F5 tornado which hit the...
Oakfield residents will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of a F5 tornado which hit the village in 1996.(WBAY Staff)
Published: Jul. 18, 2021 at 12:11 PM CDT
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OAKFIELD, Wis. (WBAY) - Sunday marks an important day for one Wisconsin village after a F5 tornado formed in a storm system that traveled through the region.

On July 18, 1996, weather officials say the costliest tornado in state history happened in the village of Oakfield, Wisconsin, with total damage amounts of $39.5 million in public/private property, and $900,000 in crop losses..

25 years later, weather experts are sounding off on that day, and how everyone in the village survived the storm. However, officials say 12 people were injured, with some of them being hospitalized.

The tornado hit Oakfield in the early evening hours, with meteorologists saying it intensified to a F3 rating as it approached the village.

Although it then grew to a F4 tornado while it went through the village, it then moved up to a F5 - the highest intensity - as it moved along a path 1-4 miles east of the village. At that point, winds were estimated to reach 265 miles an hour.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), the core width of the most intense damage was about 150-200 yards, however they add some secondary damage was found in a 400 yard wide path.

The NWS adds corn field just east of Oakfield were lowered to 1-4 inches high, and burn marks were also visible.

Residents had less than 10 minutes of warning before the tornado hit Oakfield, with the warning issued at 7:09 p.m., and then hit the village at 7:15 p.m. The NWS says it ended at 7:35 p.m.

As the tornado traveled through the village, more than 100 homes and businesses were damaged, and dozens of homes were destroyed, as well as six businesses, according to the NWS.

RELATED: Oakfield continues to rebuild and rejoice 25 years after devastating tornado

The storm eventually roped out one mile northwest of Eden, and debris was found on the Lake Michigan shoreline, and there were also cancelled checks found near Muskegon, Michigan, more than 120 miles to east and southeast.

That day, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) had nearly all of Wisconsin under a Moderate risk for severe weather, as well as parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Early that morning, the SPC said it appeared parameters would come together for a significant severe weather episode across the Great Lakes region.

Later that morning, the SPC continued to say it appeared the weather pattern was favorable for a concentrated area of severe thunderstorm development, with the possibility for a few supercells and possible tornados, in addition to likely bow echoes.

Officials then continued that discussion into the early afternoon, saying storms were expected to develop rapidly, and conditions would likely support supercell development, with the activity possibly evolving into a derecho/serial bow echo into the overnight hours.

A tornado watch was first issued for much of Wisconsin at 3:33 p.m., and a second tornado watch was issued at 6:47 p.m. to cover areas which weren’t covered under the first watch.

Radar records show the storm which caused the tornado started in eastern Adams County and produced its first tornado in Green Lake County. However, the storm moved through southern Fond du Lac County, where the Oakfield tornado was formed. The storm also moved through Ozaukee County, where two additional tornadoes were produced near Port Washington, according to the NWS.

Weather experts say those tornadoes were a part of a grand total of 12 tornadoes which formed in Wisconsin that day.

CLICK HERE for more information about the storm, as well as other significant weather events in southern Wisconsin.

As previously reported, the Village of Oakfield will have several events happening Sunday to commemorate the anniversary.

Have photos of the Oakfield tornado you want to share with us? CLICK HERE to do so.

Action 2 News spoke with community members who were in Oakfield the night of the tornado. You can watch their full interviews below.

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