Widespread storm damage, power outages in western Wisconsin

Several tornadoes have been confirmed as part of the historic severe storm outbreak.
Storm damage in Stanley, Wis. on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.
Storm damage in Stanley, Wis. on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.(Duane Wolter | WEAU)
Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 8:01 AM CST
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STANLEY, Wis. (WEAU) - A historic storm system swept through the Midwest Wednesday night, bringing with it strong winds and several tornadoes as it toppled trees and knocked out power across Wisconsin.

One of the hardest-hit areas was Stanley, Wis., which saw damage to homes and vehicles in addition to downed power lines and power outages in the area. The National Weather Service in the Twin Cities confirmed Thursday afternoon that the damage was caused at least in part by a tornado.

The Stanley Police Department posted on Facebook Thursday morning that no injuries were reported in the storm, but showed pictures of damage from the storm around town. Additionally, power was out to about three-quarters of the town, with Xcel Energy reporting the majority of Stanley’s energy customers were without power all day Thursday.

The National Weather Service in La Crosse confirmed several tornadoes occurred in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa during Wednesday night’s severe storms.

So much devistation 💔 As of 2:30 am we are relieved to report that the storm that swiftly swept through the City of...

Posted by Stanley Police Department on Thursday, December 16, 2021

The NWS in La Crosse said an EF0 tornado happened east/southeast of Lewiston, Minnesota while a pair of EF2 tornadoes occurred near Neillsville, Wis. Both of the tornadoes near Neillsville damaged two homes and a barn.

The NWS in the Twin Cities was the office that confirmed the tornado in Stanley, while another tornado was confirmed in Hartland, Minn.

All told, the two offices confirmed 10 tornadoes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa that were within their respective coverage areas.

Minnesota’s confirmed tornadoes are the first ever recorded in the month of December for the state. Wisconsin’s trio are the first confirmed tornado in the state in December in 51 years, when four tornadoes occurred in east-central Wisconsin on Dec. 1, 1970. Wisconsin has now had 34 tornadoes in 2021.

In Stanley, the storm sirens began around 9 p.m., but it all happened very quickly, according to Jody Halterman, a resident of the city.

“This came in so quickly, I did not have to respond there,” Halterman said, in reference to his volunteer firefighter’s pager going off ahead of the storm. “Within a matter of 10 seconds, this is the devastation behind me that we had.”

Halterman said his house had broken windows and his deck and gazebo were destroyed, in addition to damage to his shed. On Thursday, he spent time helping out his neighbors and cleaning up after the storm, and said that he was ‘overjoyed’ seeing the community support one another after the storm.

One business owner in Stanley said his business has been left in shambles.

“I got a call about 10 to 10 p.m.,” Bill Chwala of Chwala’s Construction said. “The warehouse was gone. Where we’re going to work tomorrow, I have no idea.”

The Stanley Fire Department said that 15 to 20 houses were damaged in Stanley, but no serious injuries were reported. There were also several area fire departments and volunteers helping with cleanup, according to the Stanley Fire Department.

The Red Cross of Wisconsin assisted five people at its shelter in the Stanley Community Building in Chapman Park overnight and provided supplies for anyone who needs them. Kwik Trip donated milk, bread, eggs, sandwiches and other items for anyone in need or anyone assisting with the clean-up, no questions asked, the Stanley Police Department said. Those supplies were located at the Stanley Community Building. The Stanley Theater offered food and hot chocolate, while Trinity Vineyard Church Outreach Leader Beth Peterson spent the day cooking for the community.

In Cadott, the roof was ripped off of a building as straight-line winds from the storm gusted past 50 to 60 miles per hour in Chippewa County. The resident of the house initially didn’t think much of it as the storms came in around 9 p.m., but seeing it in the daylight, Laurie Grace said it was worse than she expected.

“We started looking at everything and realized it literally took the roof and just lifted it up and put it into the side of the building,” Grace said. “The roof is probably going to cave in because it ripped all the stuff off if it, and you can see daylight in-between and stuff too.”

Over in Taylor County, storms arrived an hour later, having just dropped three tornadoes behind them in Chippewa and Clark counties. There, the winds ripped apart a workshop and tore the roof off of a home in Whittlesey, about 35 miles northeast of Stanley and 45 miles north of Neillsville where confirmed tornadoes were reported. The owner of the shop said they found the shop’s roof a quarter mile to the north in a field, and added he had never seen a windstorm as bad as Wednesday’s storm in his time living there since 1995.

Xcel Energy said that about 24,000 customers in Wisconsin were without power at some point during the storms, with about 3,800 still without power 24 hours after the storms came through Wisconsin. Riverland Energy Cooperative said about 6,000 homes and businesses were affected by outages due to the storm in Buffalo, La Crosse and Trempealeau counties. Eau Claire Electric Cooperative also had dozens of customers without power as of Thursday morning in Chippewa and Eau Claire counties.

Power outages closed schools in Greenwood, Sparta, Stanley-Boyd, and Thorp on Thursday while several other schools were delayed by two hours due to storm damage. Two semis were knocked over by the strong winds on Interstate 94 in Eau Claire and Jackson counties. Damage to parks in Chippewa Falls and La Crosse canceled holiday light displays and events in those areas.

There were also a number of road closures due to downed power lines and trees across western Wisconsin as wind gusts exceeded 50 miles per hour in many locations, with some western Wisconsin locations seeing gusts close to 70 miles per hour. A funnel cloud was spotted in Clark County about six miles north of Chili, Wis. Hail was reported at several locations in La Crosse County.

Damage to homes was also reported in or near Thorp, Neillsville, Osseo, Melrose, Tomah and Sparta, according to the National Weather Service in La Crosse.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services says that power outages can cause situations that threaten health or safety. Here are some general tips about how to navigate the loss of electricity:

  • An electrical power outage or interruption may cause operational problems with your furnace. If your furnace is not operating, be careful of hazards, which can occur from alternative heating sources.
  • Do NOT use alternative heating sources such as space heaters, grills, and other appliances that can give off dangerous gases. These appliances must be properly vented. Carbon monoxide is a concern. The use and ventilation of portable power generators must be carefully monitored.
  • If you use electrical heaters powered by portable generators, be careful where you place the heater and do not leave the heater unattended.
  • When a power outage occurs, food safety becomes a concern.
  • If you have electrical problems, call the your local utility company.

Xcel Energy’s power outage map can be located here. Xcel Energy also offers tips on safety during power outages, which you can read here.

Copyright 2021 WEAU. All rights reserved.

Contributions from the Stanley Police Department, Stanley Fire Department, WSAW, the National Weather Services in the Twin Cities, La Crosse, Green Bay, and Milwaukee, Xcel Energy, Riverland Energy Cooperative, Eau Claire Electric Cooperative, La Crosse Rotary Lights and the Associated Press were used in this story.